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Soccer star Dani Alves is found guilty of rape and sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison

Brazilian soccer star Dani Alves sits during his trial in Barcelona, Spain, on Feb. 5, 2024. Alves has been found guilty of sexually assaulting a young woman in a Barcelona nightclub and has been sentenced Alves to 4 1/2 years in prison.
D.Zorrakino
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AP
Brazilian soccer star Dani Alves sits during his trial in Barcelona, Spain, on Feb. 5, 2024. Alves has been found guilty of sexually assaulting a young woman in a Barcelona nightclub and has been sentenced Alves to 4 1/2 years in prison.

BARCELONA, Spain — Dani Alves, one of the most successful soccer players of his generation, was found guilty of raping a woman in a Barcelona nightclub and sentenced to four years and six months in prison on Thursday.

The former Brazil and Barcelona right back was convicted in Spain under a new sexual liberty law that emphasizes the lack of consent of the victim as key to determining sex crimes.

A three-judge panel at the Barcelona Provincial Court convicted the 40-year-old Alves of sexual assault for the incident on Dec. 31, 2022.

The court ordered Alves to pay 150,000 euros ($162,000) in compensation to the victim, banned him from approaching the victim's home or place of work, and from communicating with her by any means for nine years.

"I still believe in the innocence of Mr. Alves," Inés Guardiola, Alves' lawyer, said. "I need to study the ruling, but I can tell you that of course we will appeal."

Guardiola said Alves was "calm and collected" when he heard the verdict in court.

"We are satisfied," David Sáenz, a member of the victim's legal team, said, "because this verdict recognizes what we have always known, that the victim told the truth and that she has suffered."

The victim's lawyer, Ester García, said on Wednesday she and her client would not be present for the verdict.

The victim said Alves raped her in the bathroom of a Barcelona nightclub on the morning of Dec. 31, 2022. The court considered it proven that the victim did not consent to sex and there was evidence, in addition to the defendant's testimony, that she was raped.

Alves testified: "I am not that kind of man"

Alves denied during the three-day trial this month that he raped the woman, testifying to the court "I am not that kind of man."

State prosecutors had sought a nine-year prison sentence for Alves while the lawyers representing his accuser wanted 12 years. His defense asked for his acquittal, or if found guilty a one-year sentence plus 50,000 euros compensation for the victim.

The sentence of four years and six months is near the lowest sentence for a rape conviction, which when the rape took place was penalized by four to 12 years under Spanish law. That has since been modified to six to 12 years. The court in its sentence said it considered favorably for Alves that he had "before the trial paid the court 150,000 euros to be given to the victim without any conditions attached."

Sáenz said his legal team did not agree with the application of the extenuating circumstance, saying the money did not compensate the harm done to their client. During the trial, medical experts testified she was suffering from post-traumatic trauma.

"Clearly (it does not compensate), but that is what the court decided," Sáenz said. "We have to examine the sentence to see if its contents are adequate for his acts."

The state prosecutor's office said it will study the verdict and consider whether to appeal.

Spain Deputy Prime Minister Yolanda Díaz said she hoped the verdict "serves as an exemplary measure for all the sexist behaviors that women suffer in all areas of our lives."

The case follows adoption of Spain's "only yes means yes" law

The Alves case was the first high-profile sex crime since Spain overhauled its legislation in 2022 to make consent central to defining a sex crime in response to an upswell of protests aftera gang-rape case during the San Fermin bull-running festival in Pamplona in 2016.

The legislation popularly known as the "only yes means yes" law defines consent as an explicit expression of a person's will, making it clear that silence or passivity do not equal consent. The law, however, initially led to reduced sentences for hundreds of sex offenders because it set up lower minimum sentences, like the one applied to Alves, before being reformed.

Irene Montero, the former equality minister who championed the "only yes means yes" law, welcomed the ruling.

"The sentence against Dani Alves clearly establishes that he committed sexual assault because the victim did not consent. It is the result of the feminist fight for the right to sexual freedom and for putting consent at the center," she wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

Guardiola based her defense during the trial on video from the nightclub security cameras that she said showed how the woman danced "with sexualized movements" that "showed her interest" in Alves before the alleged assault.

García, the victim's lawyer, said at the close of the trial that the new law made it irrelevant how her client may have behaved with Alves beforehand.

"I don't care (how she was dancing), when she said 'No', that meant 'No.' That is why the law was changed," García said. "The debate is no longer whether the victim put up resistance."

Alves has been in jail since being detained on Jan. 20, 2023. His requests for bail were denied because the court considered him a flight risk. Brazil does not extradite its own citizens when they are sentenced in other countries.

The victim told state prosecutors she danced with Alves and willingly entered the nightclub bathroom, but that later when she wanted to leave he would not let her. She said he slapped her, insulted her and forced her to have sexual relations against her will.

A police officer who testified during the trial said the victim had to overcome her fears that "nobody would believe her" before she formally accused Alves. Another officer said the woman told him "I don't want money, I want justice."

Alves modified his defense during the investigative phase while in custody, first denying any sexual contact with her before admitting to sexual relations that he said were consensual. He said he had been trying to save his marriage by not admitting to the encounter initially.

During the trial, his defense focused on trying to show that Alves was drunk when he met the woman. The court, however, did not consider that an extenuating circumstance in its ruling.

His conviction shatters Alves' legacy as one of soccer's most successful players.

Alves won dozens of titles with elite clubs including Barcelona, Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain. He also helped Brazil win two Copa Americas and an Olympic gold medal at age 38. He played at his third World Cup, the only major title he hasn't won, in 2022. He played for Barcelona from 2008-16, helping to win three Champions Leagues and six Spanish leagues, and briefly rejoined the club in 2022. He still has a residence near the city.

He was with Mexican club Pumas when he was arrested. Pumas terminated his contract immediately.

Three days after his arrest, Alves was transferred by officials for safety reasons to the Brians 2 prison about 45 minutes northwest of Barcelona. He has been there ever since.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The Associated Press