Soccer star Dani Alves gets four and a half years in prison for sexual assault in Barcelona nightclub

A Spanish court considers it a proven fact that the former FC Barcelona player penetrated the victim vaginally without her consent, in what amounts to the first major trial following Spain’s new ‘Only Yes Means Yes’ law

Dani Alves
Dani Alves in Doha in 2022.Andre Penner (AP)
Jesús García Bueno

A court in Barcelona has sentenced soccer player Dani Alves to four and a half years in prison for sexually assaulting a 23-year-old woman in the toilets of the Sutton nightclub, in the Catalan capital. The judges gave credibility to the victim’s account and consider it a proven fact that the former FC Barcelona player penetrated his victim vaginally without her consent.

According to the ruling, which may still be appealed, Alves, 40, “grabbed the plaintiff roughly, threw her on the floor, prevented her from moving and penetrated her vaginally, even though the plaintiff said no, that she wanted to leave.” The judges found that this situation falls within “absence of consent, with use of violence and carnal access.” The young woman did not have vaginal lesions or any other kind of injury other than bruised knees, but the ruling noted that “for there to be sexual aggression, it is not necessary to have physical injuries, or evidence of heroic opposition by the victim.”

State prosecutors had requested nine years behind bars, while lawyers representing the accuser were seeking a 12-year-sentence. The Barcelona court that found Alves guilty also imposed €150,000 ($162,000) in damages, which the player has already paid out.

Consent, the key

The court provided extensive arguments on the subject of consent, which is at the heart of the Alves case, known in Spain as the first major criminal trial following the passage of a new sexual consent law in 2022 dubbed the “Only Yes Means Yes” law. “Consent may not just be revoked at any time, but must also be granted for each of the sexual varieties within a sexual encounter,” reads the ruling, adding that there is no evidence that the victim granted consent for what happened.

Alves’ defense based its strategy on discrediting the victim. Defense lawyers argued that her account of what transpired in the VIP lounge of the nightclub did not match camera footage. Alves’ lawyer, Inés Guardiola, said there was mutual attraction between both parties, and that once in the bathroom, the young woman did not withdraw her consent. Alves himself stated that “she never told me to stop, we were both having a good time, that’s all.”

The court said that some of the plaintiff’s statements were inconsistent with the investigation, but that the core of her testimony about events inside the bathroom she was “coherent and especially persistent.” She maintained throughout that Alves treated her with violence in the bathroom — including slaps and insults — and penetrated her without her consent until he ejaculated. Alves, on the contrary, gave three different versions of events before the judge who sent him into preventive custody on January 20, 2023.

The judges also noted that the victim did not have any ulterior motive for falsely accusing Alves. “She did not know Mr Alves, nor is there evidence that she harbored any prior ill will against him” that could have led her to file a misleading police complaint. Instead, the plaintiff has suffered from intense post-traumatic stress and other unwanted consequences after people in Alves’ close circle disclosed the victim’s identity on social media shortly before the trial.

The road to jail

The investigation began in the worst way for the former soccer star: on January 20, 2023, after a trip to Spain to accompany his wife, Joana Sanz. He was arrested by the Mossos d’Esquadra, the regional Catalan police force, and brought before a judge to give testimony. There he offered up to three different versions of what happened in the bathroom of Sutton’s: first he said that he did not know the young woman, then that nothing had happened between them, and finally that the young woman “pounced” on him in the bathroom to perform fellatio on him. These contradictions landed him in preventive prison after the judge considered him a flight risk — Alves is a citizen of Brazil, a country that does not extradite citizens convicted in other countries. In April, when he was trying at all costs to avoid a prison conviction, he admitted that there had been penetration.

His team, Mexico’s Pumas, terminated his contract upon news of his arrest. Alves won numerous 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 and briefly rejoined the club in 2022.

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