Spain: ‘Sister, I believe you’ — women protest for justice

Issue 
Throughout the day and into the night of April 26, tens of thousands demonstrated at emergency rallies held across the Spanish state in all major cities and towns, chanting: 'It’s not abuse, it’s rape!'

“La Manada” (The Pack) is the name of a WhatsApp group chosen by five men to organise a trip to los sanfermines — the running of the bulls — in Pamplona, Navarra. During the festival, in the early hours of July 7, 2016, they gang raped an 18-year-old woman in a small room under the stairwell of a block of flats.

Three hours later, one of them shared a video of the attack in another male-only WhatsApp group with 28 members, called “Danger”. One of the five was an off-duty National Guard officer, another a soldier. During the trial, evidence of another attack committed by four of the five several months earlier was uncovered.

Despite this, although the trial found the men guilty of sexual abuse, it cleared them of rape.

The trial and verdict have been met with protest by feminist collectives across the Spanish state. 

The accused men commissioned private investigators to compile a report on the victim, previously unknown to them. The investigators stalked and photographed the victim during the weeks after the attack. It concluded that the victim “continued living a normal life and showed no signs of trauma”.

This report was accepted in the trial as evidence. The WhatsApp messages, however, were excluded.

This was met with protests in Madrid and Pamplona outside the Ministry of Justice. As a result, the judge excluded all of the private investigators’ report apart from “publicly available” Instagram photos of the victim.

The trial concluded in December, however the verdict and the sentence were not given until April 26 — a five-month delay. Once more, feminist collectives called for a demonstration outside the courthouse for the verdict.

In finding the men guilty of sexual abuse rather than rape, the verdict stated that consent was given because “evidence of intimidation or physical violence” was lacking. The men were sentenced to 9-to-11 years in prison.

However, the verdict was not unanimous. One of the three judges, Ricardo Javier González, disagreed, claiming the only crime committed was stealing her mobile phone. The rest, in his eyes, was “fun and banter”.

Outside the court, demonstrators responded with chants of: “It’s not abuse, it’s rape!” Throughout the day and into the night, tens of thousands demonstrated at emergency rallies held across the Spanish state in all major cities and towns, echoing the same demand. 

Other slogans included: “Sister, I believe you”; “No is No!”; and “We women are the pack”.

Within six hours of the sentence, 115,000 people had signed a petition calling for the three judges to be sacked.

Madrid Mayor Manuela Carmena tweeted: “You are not alone; we women are with you.” 

Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau asked: “What is needed to prove rape? Do they have to gouge out your eyes? Pull out your finger nails? Break bones? Kill you? ... This is an insult and an offense to all victims, to all women.” 

Colau called for laws to be changed so that the victim should know that “she is not alone, that we will come out on to the streets as many times as are necessary”.

Irene Montero, parliamentary spokesperson for the left-wing Unidos-Podemos group, said: “If a woman doesn’t clearly say ‘yes’, it’s rape. If we are afraid to return home alone at night, why wouldn’t you feel intimidated when five men drag you into the entrance of a block of flats?”

Margarita Robles, parliamentary spokesperson for the Socialist Workers’ Party of Spain (PSOE) opposition, lamented the delay in the sentence. She said it had opened an important debate because “society had had enough of certain behaviour … often justified by alcohol and childishness”.

The General Council of the Judiciary issued a statement in response to the demonstrations and statements by various politicians and the justice minister (who said the dissenting judge had a “particular problem” and “everyone knows it”).

In a condescending tone, the statement called for “prudent reflection” and politicians to exercise “institutional responsibility” to protect the credibility and impartiality of the judiciary.

However, the judiciary — unreformed since the end of Francisco Franco’s fascist junta in the 1970s — is anything but impartial. In the past 12 months alone, the ideological character of the judiciary has been demonstrated by: the persecution and imprisonment of democratically elected politicians in Catalonia; the imprisonment of rappers and others who insult the monarchy; the trial of eight people in the Basque Country on charges of terrorism for a bar fight with two off-duty National Guard officers; and now demanding women risk their lives if they expect rapists to be convicted of rape.

More demonstrations are planned for the coming days. Both the prosecution and defence are appealing the verdict. The fight continues.

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