Five men are accused of raping an 18-year-old girl in 2016. As their trial comes to a close, Spanish feminists are outraged over the way the alleged victim has been treated, both in the media and in court.
Photo by Matthias Oesterle via Alamy
Feminist groups in Spain have reacted with anger and shock at a gang-rape case that has dominated the headlines of the country.
The so-called "Wolf Pack" trial has acted as a lightning rod for Spain’s attitudes towards sexual violence and sexual violence survivors. Five men—including one Civil Guard police officer—currently on trial and stand accused of raping an 18-year-old girl they met during Pamplona’s world-famous San Fermín bull-running festival in 2016.
The details of the case, as outlined by the BBC, make for harrowing reading. Prior to the alleged assault, the defendants were part of a Whatsapp group named “la manada (Spanish for 'wolf pack',)” in which they discussed raping women and procuring date rape drugs and ropes. “We’ll want to rape everything we set eyes on,” one man said in a message.
After meeting the victim late at night in the streets of Pamplona, CCTV footage shows the men leading her back to their apartment block by the hand. They then surrounded the Madrid teenager in a stairwell and allegedly had unprotected penetrative sex with her, which they filmed on their phones. They also sent celebratory messages to their friends on Whatsapp describing the alleged gang rape, and promised to share footage.
A police report that described the videos said that the victim had her eyes closed throughout the attack. “I just wanted it to finish as soon as possible,” she explained in court.
After the assault, one of the defendants also commissioned a private detective to spy on the alleged victim's social media posts and on her holiday with friends. It was originally intended to be submitted as proof that she was not traumatized by the assault and had thus consented to sex, though it was later withdrawn as evidence.
As the court awaits the verdict of the judge, Amnesty International and local feminist groups have criticized the judge’s handling of the case and the ensuing media scrutiny of the victim as symbolic of the country's deeply entrenched patriarchal attitudes.
The judge initially allowed the private detective’s report to be admitted into evidence, while describing the accused men’s WhatsApp conversations as irrelevant to the case. He has also been criticized for allowing the cross-examination of the defendants to take place after the prosecution had set out their evidence and the victim had testified about her experiences. In Spanish trials, defendants are usually cross-examined at the start of the trial.
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In court, the defense and prosecution clashed over a key piece of evidence: a 96 second video in which the woman lies immobile, eyes shut. The defence argued that her silence implied consent, while the prosecution maintained that she was paralyzed by terror. “The defendants want us to believe that on that night they met an 18-year-old girl, living a normal life, who after 20 minutes of conversation with people she didn’t know agreed to group sex involving every type of penetration, sometimes simultaneously, without using a condom,” said prosecutor Elena Sarasate in comments reported by the Guardian.
Women's rights activists also argue that the media coverage of the case has reinforced sexist, victim-blaming attitudes, with one Spanish TV network even running a Twitter poll asking social media users if they believed she had really been raped or consented to sex. Feminist protesters have demonstrated outside the courthouse over the course of the trial, chanting “no es no ('no means no')” and demanding justice on behalf of the victim.
“This is clearly a case of collective rape on a defenseless young woman in the hall of a house at night,” says leading Spanish feminist academic Laura Nuño Gómez. “For the WhatsApp messages they shared, it is evident that those men do not see a woman as a human being but as an object be sexually abused.” She tells me that a similar claim of rape against this group of men has been filed by another woman, and is awaiting a hearing.
For Gómez, the case indicates the shortcomings of the Spanish legal system when it comes to sexual violence. “According to the complaints filed in Spain, there is an assault every eight hours. But given that the proportion of women who reports only accounts for 10 to 16 percent of the total, we can affirm that in Spain a woman is raped every hour.”
Gómez reserves particular fury for the way in which the victim has been denigrated by the defendant’s legal team, and wider Spanish society. “There are always some people who question the authenticity of the testimony of the victim, even though her version has been corroborated by the examination of the cam of the city and the recordings of the rape by the accused with their cell phones,” she says. "The testimony of a woman tends to be devalued or questioned. It is a hallmark of patriarchy.”
Both sides have now presented all their evidence, and the case now waits for the judge’s verdict. Whatever the outcome of the case, it has galvanized feminist organizations to hold protests across the country on November 25.
"We all had the same call—'we are the herd,'” feminist activist and gender violence researcher Sonia Jiménez de la Cruz, of the Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia, tells me. “Above their violence, we answer strongly with sorority. We will not allow violence against women to go unpunished, simply because we are women.”