Hundreds of people protested across Spain on Wednesday after a Spanish court upheld a sexual abuse conviction and nine-year prison sentence for five men who attacked an 18-year-old woman, but again acquitted them of gang rape.
A lower court handed down the sentence last year, triggering protests in two dozen Spanish cities by women’s rights advocates, angry about what they saw as the court’s leniency.
Lawyers for the victim appealed, asking for a gang rape conviction, which carries a heavier sentence. Lawyers for the five men argued the sex was consensual.
The Navarra Superior Court ruled Wednesday the five men did not use force, even though they took advantage of the woman’s vulnerability.
The men — who called themselves “The Wolf Pack” — joked about the 2016 incident, which happened during Pamplona’s San Fermin festival, in a WhatsApp group.
Lack of physical violence
The state prosecutor had originally asked for sentences of more than 20 years each for rape, which in Spain requires a plaintiff to present evidence of specific violence such as being threatened with a knife or dealt physical blows.
While the ruling agreed that the men had sexually assaulted the woman in the lobby of a residential building, an incident that they recorded on their mobile phones, the lack of physical violence meant they would not be convicted of rape under Spanish law.
There has been growing concern over increased reports of sex attacks and harassment at the event, as well as over the mistreatment of women in general in Spain.
“[The ruling] is an embarrassment that shows that male chauvinism is well-established in the courts and we must take measures, measures that must educate judges, because woman can’t continue to live in fear,” the leader of the far-left Podemos party, Pablo Iglesias, said in an interview with state broadcaster TVE on Wednesday.
The decision sparked protests in Madrid where dozens of demonstrators gathered in front of the justice ministry.
The rights movement gathered steam in Spain last year, drawing tens of thousands of people to the streets on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on Nov. 25.
“The sentence reinforces the need to make precise changes to the crimes of rape and sexual violence and to differentiate them those of abuse,” Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo said on Twitter on Wednesday.
The government announced plans last July to change the Spanish penal code to make rape convictions easier.