Protests across Spain after men cleared of raping unconscious girl, 14

5 November 2019, 02:07 | Updated: 5 November 2019, 06:46

Thousands of people across Spain have taken to the streets in protest after five men who took turns to have sex with an unconscious 14-year-old girl were cleared of raping her.

The decision by a court in Barcelona to convict the men of a lesser count of sexual abuse because they did not use violence or intimidation has sparked outrage, and campaigners are demanding a change in the law.

Demonstrations were held in dozens of cities on Monday night, including the capital Madrid - where hundreds of people gathered at the gates of the ministry of justice.

Banners reading "I do believe you!" and "It's not abuse, it's rape" were on display, and the movement also spread on social media via the hashtag #EnoughPatriarchalJustice.

Deputy prime minister Carmen Calvo has said it is a priority of the Spanish government to change the law to make it clear that consent is necessary for sexual relations to occur legally, but those efforts could hit a roadblock depending on the outcome of a fourth general election in four years on Sunday.

The current administration collapsed without enough parliamentary support at the beginning of the year and the political deadlock was not resolved when voters cast their ballot again in April.

Unsure of what the government might look like a week from now, the protesters are keen to keep up the pressure to ensure the issue does not fall by the wayside.

One of those who marched in Madrid, 31-year-old psychologist Marian Fernandez, said: "It all comes down to respecting the concept of consent. It's about understanding that 'no' means no and that only 'yes' means yes."

Vivian Waisman, president of the Madrid-based women's rights group Women's Link Worldwide, added: "It's not enough with better laws; we also need judges who are well trained on gender issues."

The incident that led to the court case took place in October 2016 in the town of Manresa, at an abandoned factory where a group of young people had been drinking and using drugs.

During the trial, the victim said she could not recall every detail as the men took turns to have sex with her.

The court said she was drunk and unconscious at the time and "could not accept or reject the sexual relations".

The men were sentenced to 10 to 12 years in jail and fined €12,000 (£10,300) after being found guilty of sexual abuse, but they reportedly plan to appeal the verdict.

Demonstrators have compared the ruling to a 2016 case in which an 18-year-old was alleged to have been raped by five men at the start of the world-famous Pamplona festival.

Those defendants were found guilty of sexual abuse as judges saw no intimidation in the way the men cornered the victim in a lonely hallway, but that was overruled by the Spanish supreme court earlier this year.

The men were convicted of rape and had their jail sentences increased from nine years to 15 years.