Thousands of people demonstrated across Spain on Thursday to protest a verdict clearing five men of rape in a high-profile case that has drawn attention to social attitudes towards sexual violence.
A court in Navarre found the men guilty of sexually abusing an 18-year-old woman at the 2016 Running of the Bulls festival in Pamplona. They each received nine-year prison sentences and were sentenced to pay the victim a collective €50,000 in compensation.
But they were convicted of sexual abuse, not sexual assault (rape), which would have entailed much longer prison terms. The prosecution had sought 22 years for each defendant on the more serious charge.
The case became known as La Manada (The Pack) after the WhatsApp group that the men used to chat. The victim was assaulted inside a building lobby in Pamplona, and the men filmed the abuse on their cellphones.
The defense team portrayed the encounter as consensual, noting the woman did not appear to struggle in the recording. In their verdict, the judges agreed that there was no violence or intimidation, two necessary requirements for sexual assault under Spanish law.
Prosecution will appeal
On Friday the public prosecution service in Navarre announced that “in the coming days” it would be filing an appeal against the ruling, on the basis that the facts established in the case “constitute an offense of sexual assault (rape) and not just sexual abuse.”
In a statement, chief prosecutor José Antonio Sánchez-Villares added that the appeal will be filed “with the civil and criminal division of the Navarre High Court.”
On Friday, Spanish Justice Minister Rafael Catalá asked a ministry advisory body to analyze whether the classification of sexual violence crimes in the Criminal Code requires an update.
The announcement was made by government speaker Íñigo Méndez de Vigo, who called La Manada case “a despicable sexual assault suffered by a young woman,” even though the verdict specifically described it as sexual abuse, not assault.
“The verdict is not final yet, and the victim’s defense has announced they will appeal, and so will the prosecution,” said the minister. “The government has always been, and always will be, on the side of the victims and it is going to keep fighting the scourge of violence against women.”
As news of the ruling emerged, protests began to take shape across the country, mostly led by women’s groups. In Madrid, 10,000 people according to police estimates congregated in front of the Justice Ministry. “We are incensed that rape in Spain costs nine years,” said Carlota Álvarez, of the Madrid Feminist Movement that organized the demonstration.
Aurora Adalid, 36, protested with her five-month-old daughter in her arms. She said she feels defenseless and vulnerable, and does not want her daughter to experience fear: “I don’t know what it is that they consider violence,” she said.
“It seems that women cannot go out partying because if they do, that seems to give men the right to rape them,” added Rocío Bedmar, 61.
In Barcelona, 6,000 people stood inside Sant Jaume square holding signs that read: “Whatever they say, it’s not abuse, it’s gang rape!”
Mayor Ada Colau, who joined the protest, had earlier tweeted: “Sister , #josiqueetcrec [I believe you], and I am angry that after the violence of multiple rape you now have to suffer the violence of #patriarchaljustice. You are not alone, today there will be thousands of us taking to the streets and joining our voices to yours.”
“She has been judged more harshly than the men. In these conditions, nobody will dare file a complaint,” said Eugenia and Susana, two 18-year-old students protesting in A Coruña, in the northwestern region of Galicia.
Elisa David, a prison worker protesting outside Valencia City Hall, said she was shocked at the ruling. “I teach at the prison and I am constantly seeing extremely long sentences being served by people who have barely done anything. So this ruling seems like a joke to me.”
Esperanza Bosch, spokeswoman for the Mallorca-based feminist group Lobby de Dones, said it was particularly outrageous that one judge on the panel defended a complete acquittal for the men. She asked for more training for judges, otherwise “we will continue to see rulings claiming that a woman has been raped because she was wearing a miniskirt, or because she did not say no clearly, or because it was unclear how she defended herself.”
In Bilbao, thousands of people clogged the city center between Plaza Circular and City Hall, chanting “Where is justice?” And in Seville, where all five men hail from, a few hundred people – mostly women – congregated outside City Hall in Plaza Nueva, carrying banners that read “I believe you,” and: “We don’t forgive, we don’t forget.”
Constanza Lambertucci (Madrid), Maria Josep Serra (Valencia), Pedro Gorospe (Bilbao), Antonio J. Mora (Sevilla), Rebeca Carranco (Barcelona), Lucía Bohórquez (Palma) and Sonia Vizoso (A Coruña) contributed reporting to this story.
English version by Susana Urra.