For several weeks, police in Salamanca have been investigating a video recorded at a local nightclub showing three young women in bikinis inside a small swimming pool being groped by a group of spectators without their consent.
While the exact nature of the crimes under investigation is not clear, police have questioned the owners of some of the city’s most popular nightspots about the recording.
The video, which began circulating on the internet at the end of June, has caused scandal across the city.
Salamanca is a place to enjoy yourself, not for getting drunk” City tourism chief Julio López Reveulta
Local tourism chief Julio López Reveulta, of the Popular Party (PP), has said he will come up with a local ordinance to restrict such activities from taking place in public places.
“Salamanca is a place to enjoy yourself, not for getting drunk,” López said. “You come here to enjoy the heritage, culture and even the nightlife but without committing abuses.”
Even the Salamanca Hotel Owners Association has called for a “code of good practice” and restrictions on the amount of alcohol that can be served through special offers, discounted prices, contests and other promotions.
“What has happened here is something extreme and exceptional,” said Cristina Ruiz, manager of the organization.
Whatever restrictions officials want to introduce, enforcing them in this city of 148,000 inhabitants may not be easy. In the city’s central Plaza Mayor, it is easy to come across bachelor and hen party groups dressed up in funny costumes, and to hear conversations in a variety languages wherever you go. The University of Salamanca – which was founded in 1218 and is considered Spain’s oldest still-operating institute of higher learning – has always been a mecca for students from across the country, while its Spanish postgraduate courses attract foreigners from all round the world.
In spring and summer, when the academic year ends, the bars and cafés fill up and the promotions and special nights extend throughout the week. Themed parties featuring cheap alcohol, scantily clad revelers and drinking games are the norm.
Two city bars that have gained notoriety for their promotions are Gatsby and Irish Theatre. During one recent contest, Gatsby offered €100 as first prize and a bottle of champagne and 50 free shots for second place.
At 3am last Wednesday, seven men took to the bar’s stage to participate in an amateur male stripping contest. Patrons cheered and booed while the “strippers” gyrated to the DJ’s music. But the difference between this and the incident captured on the video under investigation is that security guards kept the audience from approaching or touching the men on the stage.
“We’re running a bar, not a church,” said José Luis, one of the owners. “We have been doing this for the past 20 years, and have done worse things, but no one has complained.”
One bar offered €100 as first prize and a bottle of champagne and 50 free shots for second place
But since the video of the three young women was leaked, some controls have been introduced. Photography and video recordings are now prohibited, according to signs outside the bar.
Prices such as €0.40 for shots, €1.50 for pints of beer and €3 for cocktails have initiated “a bar war” in Salamanca, according to a waitress with long experience of the city’s nightlife who preferred not to give her name.
“Now there are the bars that are very cheap where the quality is very low or those that are more expensive. Students who are on a small grant, or don’t have much money, look in their wallets and count every euro,” she says.
“This has its repercussions – bad contracts, terrible conditions for workers and worse customer service, not to mention the shame of knowing that you are seen as a low-cost destination with thousands of entries on the internet talking about the parties, and as a place where women are treated in a degrading manner.”
We’re running a bar, not a church,” said José Luis, one of the owners
Ascensión Díaz, the president of the Plaza Mayor Women’s Aid Association, asks what kind of message the video is putting across. “That inequality between the sexes still exists,” she concludes. “If men behave like that it is because it is normal or funny, but if the women do it, they are being provocative or trying to grab attention.”
Andrea Carmona, 20, and Kassandra Florez, 21, both US citizens with Latina backgrounds, say all they want to do is to “go out and have some fun.”
“We have our freedom, the drinks are cheap, and there is always something to do,” they add.
Lisa Gustafson and Audrey Niemchick, who are both from Michigan, agree: “We haven’t seen anything too dramatic, but we know that here you can enjoy a party and stay out late every night.”