“There were a lot of people working there... and nobody did anything!” says Carlota Prado, from Málaga in southern Spain. The 25-year-old has spent the last half-an-hour telling a judge in Colmenar Viejo, Madrid about the night that changed her life.
She is breathless from crying so much. In the video of her testimony, from December 5, 2018, and to which EL PAÍS has had access, she pauses to pull herself together before going on to explain how the man she was in a relationship with during Gran Hermano, the Spanish version of the Big Brother reality show, José María López, 25, allegedly had non-consensual sex with her when she was drunk and unconscious. But before she does, Carlota Prado blurts out, incredulous: “Nobody did anything!”
They all watched it like it was a fucking movie without doing anything about itCarlota Prado, ‘Big Brother’ contestant
Hundreds of people worked on the popular television program, and on the night in question – Friday, November 3, 2017 – dozens of them would have seen and filed everything that had been filmed in the Big Brother house by the omnipresent cameras.
After the alleged sexual assault, the two contestants spent the rest of the night together; they even shared breakfast. In fact, they were not separated until the evening of the next day, when Carlota Prado was filmed watching a video of the incident. After she was shown the footage a second time, she confronted her alleged abuser.
The question is, why did no one enter the room when they first suspected something was wrong? And why were the couple left together for so long?
These are the questions the court in Colmenar Viejo has been trying to answer in a case that has not yet been tried, although the preliminary investigation has ended. The prosecution is calling for José María López to be sent to prison for two years and six months.
On November 16, 2018, a judge interrogated two executives and the on-duty supervisor of the famous television franchise as witnesses. “The person responsible [that night] was [supervisor] María Robles,” said Álvaro Díaz, general director of Zeppelin TV, which produces Big Brother in Spain.
“I was in Zaragoza [in northeastern Spain],” said Florentino Abad, Big Brother’s executive producer and the program’s most experienced supervisor. “I didn’t witness the events in person.”
The supervisor Robles, however, appeared not to have been told what to do in the event of a possible crime. When asked what her role entailed, she said: “To help the staff if they had a technical problem, to resolve doubts about content. And, as the [supervisor], to decide which storyline to follow.”
When the judge asked about what protocols the production company had in the event of a crime, Abad replied: “Things had never reached that point before.” Not until that Friday night in 2017.
That November night, a party was held at the Big Brother house, located in Guadalix de la Sierra in the Madrid region. There was no consensus about how much alcohol was served, an issue the judge, the prosecution and the defense were keen to establish.
Abad claimed that each contestant was served a single drink, but Díaz contradicted his version by saying they were served “one or two.” Abad then admitted: “If there are 12 people, we bring out 12 drinks. We don’t tell them to have one each.”
Supervisor María Robles said some contestants had drinks they had saved from other parties, something her bosses Díaz and Abad argued was impossible. Everyone denied serving tequila that night even though Carlota claimed that’s exactly what she drank – four shots of it. She only ate “a little pasta and chips to try to get something in my stomach.” The show has since made it known that it is considering “implementing a zero-alcohol policy.”
They chose the person who was supposed to have been able to prevent everything to be my nanny!Carlota Prado, ‘Big Brother’ contestant
Robles told the court about the moment she realized something had gone wrong – the moment she saw Carlota clearly drunk and lying on the sofa during the party. José María López, on the other hand, had not drunk anything. “I could see a fight brewing, which would make good content for us,” she said, adding that she watched the couple leave the party from the control room. “I was paying close attention because it’s not often that two contestants leave a party so quickly. Either they were going to argue, or something was wrong,” she said.
Carlota was clearly affected by the drinks. “She was staggering and blinking more slowly,” said Robles. “I noticed José María looked fresh.”
The couple sat down on the bed. Then they laid down, still with their clothes on. “He pulled the duvet over the both of them,” said Robles, who asked them twice to clip on their microphones. “We’re going to sleep, super,” José María replied. The microphones were finally turned on.
In the dark, Robles could see movement under the duvet. Carlota was heard saying, “I can’t” before taking her left hand out from under the duvet and placing it on the headboard. “I could make out Carlota’s head moving uncontrollably and she had her eyes closed. She was unconscious. I couldn’t see him,” said Robles, who says she turned to a colleague for advice. “I said, ‘Tell me what you see.’ We saw Carlota’s head moving and she seemed to be asleep or unconscious.”
Why did no one intervene?
According to Abad, Robles called him at that point. He told her to intervene via the Big Brother loudspeaker and then went back to sleep. Robles told the court: “I called Carlota. The movements under the duvet stopped. Carlota didn’t react.”
Then the prosecutor asked Robles: “After what you had seen, did the possibility occur to you that a crime had been committed?” To which Robles answered: “Yes.” When asked what she did next, she replied: “What I could. I interrupted via the loudspeaker to see if Carlota was conscious or not.” She did not enter or order anyone to enter the room.
“Were there security personnel at the time who could enter to physically separate the two parties?” the prosecution asked.
I could make out Carlota’s head moving uncontrollably and she had her eyes closedSupervisor María Roble
“There are always security personnel,” replied Robles.
“Why did you decide not to let them go in?”
“I didn’t see what was going on.”
“But you witnessed a crime. Did you have the authority to order the security personnel to enter and intervene?”
“You’re putting me in a difficult position.”
Abad gave a different answer to the same question. According to him, “the authority [to call for security] lies with the person who is in charge at that moment. María [was in charge].”
At 7am on Saturday, Robles called Abad again to tell him what had happened. Still in Zaragoza, he said he would go to the Guadalix de la Sierra house on Sunday afternoon. Prior to that, Álvaro Díaz and Pilar Blasco, the managing director of Endemol, which owns Zeppelin TV, would come. Together they decided to evict José María and break the news to Carlota by showing her the footage of the incident. There was no warning and she watched the video alone, which goes against all the guidelines from experts on cases involving sexual abuse.
After being told what had happened, Carlota asked to see José María. Those in charge agreed, also contrary to standard protocol in the case of sexual abuse. This time she was accompanied by two psychologists and one staff member. “Pilar Blasco told me that under no circumstance would she let me go in alone for my own safety,” Carlota told the court. “And I told her that she could bring an army if she wanted, but that I had every right to see that person. I don’t know where that room was, but he came in and told me to sit next to him, which made me feel dreadful as I had just seen the video minutes before – he hadn’t seen it himself.”
According to Carlota’s testimony, the program executives showed her the images twice, once on Saturday and once on Sunday, filming her while she watched them the first time, alone – this footage was subsequently published by the Spanish newspaper El Confidencial, which also advanced some of the testimonies from the trial.
In the video of her court testimony, Carlota says: “I told him [José María], ‘Look, I’m going to be absolutely clear – I already know what happened but I’m giving you the chance to tell me yourself.’ And he said, ‘I don’t know what happened. I have nothing to tell you.’”
All future shows of Big Brother have been canceled
José María López said in his court statement that he didn’t for a moment think that the sexual relations were non-consensual. “She was rolling around with me and I was rolling around with her,” he said.
Carlota, however, told the judge that José María owned up to what he had done. “He said, ‘Well, it was just a second.’ Of course, when he told me that, they had to put Pilar Blasco and the two psychologists between us. I said, ‘Look, don’t come anywhere near me.’ Because at that point, he had owned up.”
That weekend, José María López was evicted and went back to Murcia, but Carlota stayed in a hotel under the supervision of the Big Brother production team. “They told me they were going to keep me apart for a few days so I could be seen by psychologists,” she explained.
Carlota spent several nights in the hotel with María Robles before her mother arrived.
“They chose the person who was supposed to have prevented everything to be my nanny!” Carlota told the court. “I don’t know the extent of these people’s inhumanity. But nanny? I was going to the bathroom and this woman was outside the door.”
Robles even slept in the same room. “She took away the TV remote control and the phone, and treated me like I was crazy or going to do something crazy,” said Carlota, who at that point had begun to take stock of everything. “I couldn’t understand, for example, why he [José María] had stayed with me for so long, why they hadn’t taken him away, why they weren’t bothered by the fact I had passed out, why they didn’t treat me, why they didn’t give me a B-12 [a vitamin used in the treatment of acute alcohol poisoning], as they have plenty of resources. I’ve seen them. I’ve seen the people in the room with the screens and they all watched it like it was a fucking movie without doing anything about it.”
In cases of sexual assault and abuse, victims go through a second ordeal: re-victimization. They relive what happened and feel they are not believed and that they are being singled out.
Carlota Prado told the court how her own story was recounted to her by others. “From all over Spain! People in the Metro [subway], people on the street, people on the bus. Even people I knew. I’ve had threats and people telling me I’m scum, until I had the very healthy idea of getting off social media,” she said. “It has happened every way you can imagine. My mother has had letters shoved under her door, my sister has had her life made impossible at work. The story is that I sold myself to Telecinco [the Spanish channel that broadcasts Big Brother], that it is all a lie, that I’m giving women who go through the same thing a bad name.”
The production company filed a complaint with the Civil Guard in Colmenar Viejo on Saturday, November 4, 2017 at 8.22 pm. By last December, Big Brother’s reputation had been so badly damaged that Telecinco was forced to cancel all future shows. Most of its advertisers had pulled out. There are no plans for it to go back on air.
English version by Heather Galloway.