A Barcelona court on Thursday ruled out the more serious charge of sexual assault – the legal equivalent of rape in Spain – on the grounds that the victim was in an “unconscious state” from drugs and alcohol and the accused had not used “any type of violence or intimidation” in the attack.
The five men were handed between 10 and 12 years in prison. A conviction for sexual assault would have carried jail sentences of between 15 and 20 years.
Two other defendants were acquitted of involvement in the attack which took place in October 2016 at a party at an abandoned factory in the town of Manresa in the northeastern region of Catalonia.
“The problem is not the verdict, it's the criminal code” which states that intimidation or violence must be proven for a person to be convicted of rape, said Montserrat Comas of the progressive Judges for Democracy association in Catalonia.
Spain's laws must be changed to define rape as all sex without consent, as is the case in most other European nations and as required by Istanbul Convention, an international treaty on preventing and combating violence against women which Madrid ratified in 2014, she told news radio Cadena Ser.
“The facts are especially horrendous because we are talking about a 14-year-old minor,” Comas said.
The case has been likened to the so-called “Wolf Pack” gang rape of a young women in Pamplona in July 2016 during the northern city's famed bull-running festival which also sparked outrage.
In 2018, five Spanish men were first sentenced to nine years in prison for sexual abuse in that case, leading to widespread protests and calls for a review of Spain's rape laws.
In June the Supreme Court increased their sentences to 15 years each by requalifying the charges as sexual assault.
Following the initial Pamplona verdict, Spain's Socialist government announced plans to reform the criminal code to stipulate that a woman must give her explicit consent for sex but so far no changes have been made.
Marisa Soleto, head of the Women's Foundation pro-equality group, said in a tweet that the ruling in the Manresa case “was further proof of the need to change the law”.
And Altamira Gonzalo of the women jurists' group Themis said she felt “much shame and powerlessness” over the verdict.