In an open letter to Spain's Ministry of Justice, 1,869 psychologists and specialists in psychotherapy have denounced the nine-year sentence handed down to the five men from Seville, known as 'The Pack.'
The signatories issued the open letter, widely reported on in the Spanish media, with two objectives: “To provide scientific information that helps to clarify problematic aspects problematic of the case; and to carry out a reflection based on evidence about the patriarchal system and the serious consequences it has for society in general and for women and children in particular.”
The experts said they had written the letter primarily because they wanted to shed light on a common reaction of victims during a situation of sexual aggression and violence.
“We want to offer our knowledge about the traumatic impact that various events and events cause in people and how they determine their reactions. In this sense, our contribution should shed light on a complex and delicate task such as the determination or not of consent of the victim and her possible reactions to a situation such as the one described in the proven facts,” reads the letter.
Using a theory known as Polyvagal Theory, first described by US psychiatry professor Steven Porges, the psychotherapy experts argued how the court's interpretation of the victim's consent – which led to the court finding the accused guilty of sexual abuse, not “rape” – is in fact a common reaction of the nervous system when faced with extreme violence.
“The nervous system is activated parasympathetic, with the result of an immobilization response, with slower beats of the heart and reduced sensitivity to pain. This is a quick way to react our nervous system to try to survive and minimize the impact of the event,” explained the specialists.
Much of the outrage at the sentence in Spain was sparked by the refusal of the court in the Basque Autonomous Region to sentence the accused for 'sexual aggression' – the Spanish legal definition of rape – despite evidence of use of premeditated and brutal violence against the victim by the accused.
“It does not make sense to raise the issue of consent or resistance, since this ability will be canceled given the magnitude of the threat. This theory has been demonstrated scientifically and endorsed by professionals specialized in trauma worldwide,” argued the co-signatories of the letter.
Thousands of people have attended demonstrations across Spain in the last week to denounce the sentence and calling for reform in the justice system.
The court in Navarre, northern Spain, found the five men guilty of sexual abuse, but not sexual aggression, which the public prosecutor had been pushing for along with a proposed sentence of 22 years.
'The Pack' – the name is a moniker for what the men called themselves in a WhatsApp group – were sentenced to nine years in prison but could be free after as little as three years of incarceration, Spanish media have reported.