Prosecutors in a gang rape trial in Spain have upgraded the charges against six young men from sexual abuse to rape in a case that has sparked an ongoing debate over the country’s sexual offence laws.
The men are charged with abusing a 14-year-old girl in an abandoned factory in a town in the north-eastern region of Catalonia called Manresa in October 2016. A seventh man is accused of masturbating while watching and failing to stop a crime.
Prosecutors provoked outrage for previously arguing they should face the lesser charge of sexual abuse rather than rape because the girl was drunk, under the influence of drugs and did not fight back.
Women’s rights campaigners argued they should face accusations of rape and questioned why the prosecutor had not pushed for the more serious charge.
The assumption a victim gives their consent because they have not physically resisted is problematic since experts have identified “involuntary paralysis” or “freezing” as a highly common physiological and psychological response to sexual assault.
But rape must involve specific acts of violence such as being threatened with a knife or dealt physical blows under Spain’s criminal code.
Six of the men will now have the charges upgraded from sexual assault to rape. Prosecutors announced on Monday they were calling for sentences of at least 14 years in jail for the six men.
The prosecutors in the Manresa case had said they would consider testimony provided by the victim and a key witness in July before making a final decision on their official accusation when the trial recommenced after a summer break.
The victim, who is now 17, told the court that she had gone to the scene of the alleged crime with one of the men, who then invited his friends to take turns to rape her.
One of the accused is said to have told each of them: “It’s your turn. Fifteen minutes each and no delay.”
A witness said that the men brandished a gun and threatened to throw the victim in a river after they had finished abusing her.
Prosecutor Elena Contreras said: “We must put the spotlight on the accused [who] seemed happy to trample her body in pursuit of amusement.”
The defendants, whose ages have not been revealed, have all denied having sexual relations with the victim.
The trial has sparked a fierce outcry from the Spanish feminist movement – with protestors regularly assembling outside the Barcelona court holding placards which say “it isn’t abuse, it’s rape” in Catalan.
The case has become known as the “Manada de Manresa”, or Manresa wolf pack, because of the parallels it shares with another 2016 gang attack on a teenage woman which prompted nationwide protests and an ongoing review of the country’s rape laws. The men called themselves La Manada – “the wolf pack”.
The five men were convicted of sexual abuse but cleared of gang rape charges in December 2018 for their attack which happened during the Pamplona bull-running festival in 2016.
But Spain’s Supreme Court increased their sentences from nine to 15 years in June, ruling they had committed rape. This followed more than a year of heated protests against their initial less stringent conviction – with thousands taking to the streets throughout the case.
The original ruling found the 18-year-old victim’s consent was compromised when she was led into a building lobby by the men, who took turns having intercourse with her and making phone recordings of the sex acts.
Even though the judges described the woman as “stunned and unable to react,” they reached the conclusion there had been no violence or intimidation. However, the supreme court has now ruled she was simply too scared to fight back.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, secretary-general of the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party, tweeted “Only ‘yes’ means ‘yes’” in response to the re-sentencing in the La Manada rape case.
The country’s socialist government pledged to reform Spain’s rape laws last year, abolishing the charge of sexual abuse and creating one offence of non-consensual sex, with no additional requirement for physical force or intimidation to have been a factor.