Pamplona rape trial reveals changing attitudes to sexual violence in Spain

Attempts to blame victim of alleged assault widely rejected as attacks receive global attention

Manuel Jabois
The five men accused of raping an 18-year-old in Pamplona in 2016.
The five men accused of raping an 18-year-old in Pamplona in 2016.

On Wednesday, the first of five suspects accused in an ongoing gang rape trial in Spain admitted the 18-year-old victim did not expressly consent to sexual relations.

The two cases mark a “before and after” moment in terms of views the treatment of rape victims in Spain

It is a case that made world headlines after the men in their twenties were accused of assaulting the young woman and recording the rape with their cellphones during the 2016 Running of the Bulls.

As the trial continues in the northern Spanish city of Pamplona, comparisons are being drawn by some to the 2008 murder of Nagore Laffage.

During the Running of the Bulls of that year, Nagore, a 20-year-old nurse, met up with the 27-year-old doctor José Diego Yllanes. The two went up to Yllanes’s apartment, where the doctor tore Laffage’s clothes off and then attacked her viciously before finally killing her. Yllanes explained his attack on the nurse by saying that Nagore had refused to have sex with him. He said he lost his head. They had already kissed and caressed each other, Yllanes said. Later, “there was a misunderstanding.”

They judged my daughter at every moment, not her murderer Nagore Laffage’s mother

At first glance, these two assault cases may appear to have little in common. Nagore is dead, and her murderer admitted the crime. The 18-year-old in the current case is alive and the defendants say they did not rape her. Despite these differences, however, there is a thread that connects the two cases: they both mark a “before and after” moment in terms of social views towards sexual assault and the treatment of rape victims in Spain.

Thousands of people have mobilized in defense of women’s rights, and there has been a strong reaction in Spain to any attempt to blame the victims in such assaults.

During the trial of Nagore’s killer – which garnered unprecedented levels of attention for a Pamplona court case, according to one local journalist – her mother was asked if her daughter was a flirt. “They were constantly judging my daughter, not her murderer,” she later said.

Meanwhile, the defense team in the La Manada case employed a private detective to analyze the behavior of the victim after the alleged crime, including on social media – a move condemned by many in Spain as another attempt to lay the blame for the assault at the feet of the victim.

And during the La Manada trial yesterday, defense attorneys and prosecutors dedicated several hours to analyzing the 96 seconds of video footage filmed by the defendants while they had sexual relations with the alleged victim. The young woman had her “eyes closed” and was in a “passive or neutral” attitude: she was not participating at all, said prosecutors, who argued this indicated she had been in a state of shock.

In 2016, the judge in the current gang rape case noted video footage showed “no consent was apparent on the part of the victim”

But defense lawyers argued the woman’s attitude was evidence she had consented and highlighted several seconds in which she appeared to participate.

It was these videos of the incident that saw the presiding judge place the five defendants in pre-trial custody in September 2016. In making that decision the judge noted that “no consent was apparent on the part of the victim” and that what instead emerged from the footage was “submission to an overwhelming situation of physical and numerical superiority, and recognition of the impossibility of opposing the lewd intentions of the aggressors.”

Nagore could be alive today. But she would have had to give in to Yllanes all those years ago. She would have had let him do whatever he wanted to her before fleeing her assailant’s house. She might have survived. Would she have gone to the police? Could she have accepted being blamed for the crime, as is the norm for women who report a rape? It’s impossible to know. But we do know she resisted Yllanes.

As Víctor Sarasa, who represented Pamplona City Hall in the prosecution, said of Nagore, she was “the most defenseless person in the world in a house she didn’t know and which she could not leave, cornered by a person far stronger than her, who beat her savagely until she had no strength left and was unconscious, to the point that he was able to strangle her with one hand.”

Yllanes was not convicted of first-degree murder (asesinato) for the killing of Nagore, because the jury ruled it was not premeditated. He was instead convicted of manslaughter (homicidio). He now only returns to prison at night to sleep. He has served 8 years and 11 months of his 12.5 year sentence.

English version by George Mills.

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