MADRID (Reuters) - Spain’s Supreme Court on Friday ruled that five men who attacked a teenager at a bull-running festival were guilty of rape not the lesser crime of sexual abuse, concluding a case that sparked mass protests across Spain over chauvinism and sexual abuse.
The Supreme Court’s ruling, hailed by women’s’ rights groups and by the government, accepted that the victim’s ordeal met the requirement in Spanish law that the plaintiff in a rape case must present evidence of intimidation or specific violence.
Lawyers for the woman, who was 18 when she was gang-raped in a doorway early in the morning at the 2016 San Fermin festival by the five men who called themselves the “Wolf Pack”, argued that shock and fear had stopped her from fighting them.
The men had originally been convicted by a lower court of sexual abuse. Outrage at that verdict helped put the treatment of women at the heart of the public debate in Spain, including during campaigning for April’s election, and prompted a government promise to change the law.
The case attracted international attention in the wake of the global #MeToo movement that has highlighted sexual abuse and mistreatment of women.
The men, who include a former policeman and a former soldier, had shared videos of the incident in a WhatsApp group and joked about it shortly afterwards.
The teenager was found crying on a bench by a couple who rang the police when she said she had been attacked.
The Supreme Court said the attack should be considered as rape “because the factual account describes a scenario of true intimidation, in which the victim did not at any moment consent to the sexual acts carried out by the accused”.
It increased the mens’ sentence to 15 years in jail rather than the nine years they had been given for sexual abuse by the regional court. The lower court had said the men could not be convicted of rape without proof they had used physical violence.
One of the men was sentenced to an additional two years in jail for stealing the victim’s phone. They collectively need to give 100,000 euros ($113,190) as compensation to the victim.
All five were immediately detained by police to be sent to jail to start their sentence.
Marisa Soleto, head of the Women’s Foundation pro-equality group, welcomed Friday’s ruling but said the law should not require proof of violence or of the victim fighting back.
“We won’t have to be ashamed about this ruling as we were with the previous one,” she told Reuters. “However, we still demand that the legislation for crimes against sexual freedom be reviewed.”
The government said it would press ahead with plans to change the law, after a divisive election campaign in which women’s rights and gender violence were at the heart of debate.
“Only yes is yes,” acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Twitter. “Spain continues to advance in the protection of women’s rights and freedoms, and it will not stop. Because we believed her (the victim), because we believe you.”
Spain’s new parliament has the largest share of women in any European legislature although the election saw the anti-feminist Vox party enter the assembly for the first time.
The defendants’ lawyers had argued the woman consented to sex. “The victim could have said ‘No’,” lawyer Agustin Martinez told the court.
But Spain’s public prosecutor Isabel Rodriguez agreed that violence and intimidation was used, saying: “You can’t ask victims to act in a dangerously heroic way.”
Protests were organized last year throughout Spain after the regional court’s verdict. Thousands brandished banners that read “I believe you sister” and chanted “It’s not abuse, it’s rape”.
The men’s release from jail during the appeal process on a legal technicality that no one can be held for more than two years without a definitive sentence further fueled protests calling for tougher punishment of sex crimes.
The attack occurred during the annual bull-running festival in Pamplona, which draws thousands of tourists and is famed for its drunken revelry. But concern has grown over increased reports of sex attacks and harassment at the event, as well as over the mistreatment of women in general in Spain.
Additional reporting by Isla Binnie, Paul Day, Elena Rodriguez; Editing by Catherine Evans