May 20, 5:37 PM EDT

Argentine judges blasted for another sex abuse ruling



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BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) -- Two Argentine judges who have come under fire for sharply reducing the sentence of a child abuser were already under scrutiny for easing the sentence of a pastor convicted of abusing two teenage girls, arguing their poverty made them susceptible to sex at an early age.

In the 2011 decision reviewed by The Associated Press on Wednesday, judges Benjamin Sal Llargues and Horacio Piombo reduced the pastor's sentence from 18 years to 9 1/2 years. Francisco Avalos was convicted in 2004 of having sex with two underage girls who attended his church.

The judges justified their decision by writing that in lower social classes, "sexual relations are accepted at early ages."

Now they are under fire for revelations that they cut another sentence due to the alleged conduct of a 6-year-old victim.

In a 2014 ruling that came to light this week, the judges reduced the sentence of Mario Tolosa, a sports club vice president, from six years to 38 months. They ruled his acts should not be considered "gravely outrageous" in legal terms because the boy already "was making a precocious choice" of his sexuality, an apparent reference to homosexuality.

Email and direct tweets to Piombo seeking comment were not immediately returned. Attempts to reach Llargues were also unsuccessful.

Lawyers and several politicians have criticized the decision while the Argentine Federation of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Trans is demanding the judges be removed from the bench.

Maria Santiago, who started an online petition calling for the judges' removal, criticized them for blaming the boy for the abuse.

"A 6-year-old can't define his sexuality," she said during a phone interview. "And even if he could, rape is rape."

The 2011 sentence reduction for the pastor is similar in that it focuses on the victims. According to court documents, both girls were impregnated by Avalos, as was their mother and others in the community. The judges argued that environment had to be taken into account for the punishment.

Seeing a crime through such a prism is an all but obsolete way of analyzing a case, said Martin Bohemer, an Argentine law professor.

"In the last century, people argued that a prostitute couldn't be raped because she wasn't honest," Bohemer said. "In other words, if a person is not honest you can't violate their honesty."

Today, the legal measure is whether somebody's integrity, or physical being, has been violated, he said.

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