A man who many believed would be spending many years behind bars for sexually abusing his 14-year-old stepdaughter is walking free with not even a slap on the wrist.
A Spanish court has provoked outrage by acquitting the man despite the fact his teenage stepdaughter gave birth to his child.
The Pamplona court accepted the defendant’s claim that the teenager had sat astride him while he was asleep on the sofa and engaged in penetrative sex. The man said he had no recollection of the supposed encounter as he had been very drunk that night.
Close to nine months later, in December 2018, the girl was admitted to hospital and gave birth to a child, something the accused claimed had been a complete surprise to him and the girl’s mother. Social services ordered a paternity test, which confirmed that the stepfather was the father of the baby.
The girl’s mother reported the father for alleged sexual abuse of her daughter, who initially said she had been raped in the street before changing her story to corroborate her stepfather’s claim that he had not been conscious when they had sex.
The judges, sitting in the same Pamplona court that in 2018 sparked massive feminist protests when acquitting the “wolf pack” gang rapists who were later found guilty on appeal, said that there was insufficient evidence to convict the stepfather.
However, the sentence also noted that the girl had “kept her head and eyes facing down” during the trial, “answering questions very briefly in a barely audible voice”.
Altamira Gonzalo, vice-president of the Themis women jurists’ association, said the verdict “takes us back to the kind of sentences we used to see in Spain in the 1950s or 60s, when there was complete impunity for men in the family environment”.
“The sentence beggars belief. The only thing the court valued is the accused’s right to the presumption of innocence. It has ignored its duty to protect a minor and the fact that the age of consent in Spain is 16,” Ms Gonzalo told The Telegraph.
Spain’s parliament this week passed a new child protection law backed by NGOs such as Save the Children, which estimates that only 15 per cent of family abuse cases in Spain are reported.
Cira García, a judge from one of Spain’s gender violence courts, said the sentence does not even consider the possibility that the girl may have changed her version of events in order to protect her stepfather.
“We are sick of criticising that children’s testimony is often not given credibility and they are accused of lying in court, but here the girl’s word is accepted without question to absolve the accused, even though her account of events is absolutely implausible,” Ms García told the online newspaper Público.