Spain Protests As “La Manada” Resurfaces

Protests littered Spain’s streets following the decision of a regional court to grant bail to five men convicted of sexually abusing a teenage girl. The panel of judges ruled two to one that there is no risk of the men fleeing or being repeat offenders. The bail is set to €6,000 for each man. Additional conditions for the bail include: relinquishing their passports, reporting regularly to a local court, and a ban from attempting to contact the victim and from entering Madrid, where she resides.

The infamous case (nicknamed, “la manada,” or “the wolf pack,” after the WhatsApp group the defendants used to communicate) was first tried in April 2018. The men were cleared of gang rape charges of an 18-year-old woman during the world-famous 2016 San Fermín festival in Pamplona. Instead, they were sentenced to nine years in prison for sexual abuse, which both the defendants and prosecution are appealing.

In a video the accused men recorded of the incident which occurred in July 2016, the woman is laying still with her eyes closed during the assault. The defendants passed this as consent since the woman “adopted a passive, submissive stance.” They used allegations such as the woman agreeing to being escorted by the men to her car and agreeing to be kissed after the act to support such a claim. They also hired a private detective to prove that the woman returned to her day-to-day life normally and unscathed. Furthermore, according to records of the WhatsApp chat, the men celebrated and promised to share the recording.

The prosecution, on the other hand, sought conviction for rape and 23 years in prison. They assert that the woman’s stillness is paralysis induced by the fright she felt after being taken to a hidden corridor and violated. Lawyers also emphasize that initial friendliness between the men and the woman should not be taken as having persisted before, during, and after the attack. One of the prosecutors, Elena Sarasate, points out the irrational thinking of the defendants who “want us to believe…after 20 minutes of conversation with people [the victim] didn’t know, [she] agreed to group sex involving every type of penetration, sometimes simultaneously, without using a condom.” The woman also claims she is undergoing long-term therapy to overcome trauma.

This opens up a needed conversation about the institutionalization of marginalizing and discrediting women. The public’s consistent voice of disapproval has pressured lawmakers and politicians to revisit Spain’s laws regarding sexual violence. Currently in Spain, sexual abuse differs from rape in its definition that it does not involve violence or intimidation. La manada, in particular, highlights the patriarchal lean of the justice system. The case comes across as a cross-examination of the woman instead of the men who attacked her, since it focuses on the “woman’s reactions instead of the behaviour of violent men.” The judges receive wide criticism for upholding claims of her passivity during the assault while failing to sufficiently find the evidence of violence and intimidation needed to secure a rape conviction.

Part of the reason this case has become infamous is because the varying definitions of rape legal systems have inadvertently confirm the twisted notion of consent abusers have. Consequently, la manada has ignited a Spanish #MeToo movement, with the hashtag, “#cuéntalo”, meaning “tell it” and people sharing their own experiences with sexual abuse to show solidarity. The consensus that the judges had the wrong verdict resonates with the Spanish population as police shared “No is No” messages on social media and protests were held all over the country. Perhaps most substantially is the support now-Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez showed after the April verdict in tweeting: “She said NO. We believed you then and we still believe you. If what the ‘wolf pack’ did wasn’t group violence against a defenseless woman, then what do we understand by rape?” Sánchez has appointed a cabinet in which women are in charge of almost two-thirds of the ministries – the highest representation of women in European government. As this case resurfaces, the people of Spain and populations all around the world have great anticipation in seeing how Sánchez can spearhead women’s rights in his country, within the EU, and on the international stage.

Sofia Lopez