Spain Erupts in Protests as Court Upholds 'Wolf Pack' Gang Rape Acquittal

The five men bragged about raping women in their Whatsapp group chat and filmed themselves sexually assaulting a teenage girl during Pamplona's annual running of the bulls festival.

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Dec 5 2018, 4:31pm

Photo by Matthias Oesterle via Alamy

A Spanish court has upheld a controversial decision to clear five men accused of gang raping an 18-year-old woman at Pamplona's San Fermín running of the bulls festival.

Appeal judges presiding over the "wolf pack" case—named after the men's Whatsapp group chat "La Manada" ("wolf pack" in Spanish)—have acquitted them of rape and upheld the nine-year jail sentences for the lesser offence of sexual assault. Fresh protests broke out across Spain following the verdict of the appeal court; the case will now go to the Supreme Court.

In 2016, the five men in their 20s met the young woman on the streets of Pamplona and led her into a basement, where they filmed themselves having unprotected sex with her. They subsequently shared videos of their attack on their phones in their group chat. In the footage, the victim is immobile and has her eyes shut: “I just wanted it to finish as soon as possible,” she said later in court.

Broadly previously reported on the trial in November 2017. The emerging details of the case made for harrowing reading. Prior to the attack, members of the group—which included a Civil Guard police officer—had 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.

The trial itself has attracted fierce criticism from national and international observers. The presiding judge allowed a private detective’s report surveilling the victim to be admitted as evidence. Lawyers for the five men intended to argue that the victim was not traumatized and had consented to sex because she posted cheerful messages on social media, and went on holiday after the assault. The report was later withdrawn as evidence.

“This is clearly a case of collective rape on a defenseless young woman in the hall of a house at night,” Spanish feminist academic Laura Nuño Gómez told Broadly at the time. “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.”

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Today’s ruling will refocus attention on the limitations of Spanish rape laws. Under existing legislation, rape needs to involve an element of violence and intimidation. Although the appeal court judges agreed that the victim did not consent to sex, they said that they did not see proof that violence or intimidation was used to coerce her into sex.

Women's rights campaigners argue that a consent-based rape law is needed now to ensure justice for future victims. Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez has already promised to introduce a new law on sexual consent, and a committee of experts has been formed to reform the Spanish penal code on sexual violence.