You are 18 years old. Five men are raping you. Some hours ago you were enjoying the famous San Fermin festival, 200 miles away from home. Or maybe you were not having that much fun. Maybe you thought bulls running and drunks filling the streets was stupid, but who cares today.
They are about twice your size, 10 years your senior. Later you will learn one is a Civil Guard and another is a military officer. But right now they are filming it—they are filming how they are using your body, every door and exit. They take your cellphone to make sure you do not reach out for help. You close your eyes and hope for it to be over soon. The seven videos shared on a WhatsApp group named La Manada (The Wolf-pack) last 96 seconds altogether—but for you, eyes shut, it feels like a million centuries in hell.
You go to the police. The crime hits national news. Almost two years later, three judges conclude that what they did to you was not rape. While prosecutors asked for more than 20 years of prison, the court sentences your attackers to nine years each.
This is not fiction. The sexual assault really happened two years ago—and the ruling was handed down just this Sunday in Spain.
Spanish law makes a difference between “sexual aggression” and “sexual abuse,” which is key to understanding why the court decision is exceptionally outraging. Sexual abuse is not considered “rape” under the Spanish code. It does not involve violence or intimidation. This means that for five months, three judges watched 96 seconds of five men attacking a young woman over and over and did not see any violence or intimidation.
“What her gestures, expressions and sounds [in the video] suggest me are of sexual arousal,” one judge, Ricardo González, wrote in the 371 pages sentence. “Her lack of consent is not patent neither in her expressions, sounds nor attitudes.” He was in favor of acquitting the men of all charges—except for stealing the victim’s cell phone.
The accused have been in custody for one year and nine months, which will be discounted from the sentence. When they reach a third of their time in prison, they will be able to enjoy weekend permits—meaning that, as soon as next summer, they could be hitting the streets. They have been also condemned to pay 50,000 euros together and 1,531 euros to the regional healthcare service. Stealing her cellphone was considered as a misdemeanor. Both parties will appeal.
Outside the court, feminist groups shout “it’s rape, not abuse.” Protests immediately swell across the country. Sentiments like “no means no” and “sister, this is your wolf-pack” are declared on the streets and posted on social media. Activists demand a change in the penal code and call for a revision of the court decision.
Many of these women remember the myriad cases in which young women have been murdered after resisting sexual assaults. Now they’re asking themselves a shocking question: Do we have to choose between being believed or being killed?