A court decision last week declaring that the sexual assault of a young woman in Spain by five men known as “La Manada,” or “the wolf-pack,” did not qualify as rape in the eyes of the law, sparked a strong outcry from feminist activists—and a deep and arduous debate revolving around sexual violence.
It was in the early hours of the morning that a young woman was repeatedly raped by the pack, a group that included both a civil guard and a soldier, in the lobby of an apartment building during Pamplona’s 2016 San Fermin celebrations. The men, who were sentenced to only nine years in prison each, declared that the victim fully consented to the acts and actively and willingly participated in “group sex”—a bewildering statement considering that, after the horrific and violent assault, they left her lying naked and stole her phone. After 96 seconds of video footage collected from the men’s phones—in which the pack is heard, multiple times, communicating in a mechanical language of dehumanizing instructions, including declaring “move her” to one another and directly telling the victim to not talk—was submitted as evidence, the three judges overseeing her case focused instead on what they deemed the “passive” and “neutral” attitude of the victim.
Following the verdict, thousands of women and men, compelled by the lenient sentencing, took the streets to call for justice. One popular message—hermana yo si te creo, or “sister I do believe you”—exemplifies the spirit of their protests. Messages of support and solidarity with the victim have filled both public and online spaces.
Over the past few years, and particularly the last few months, the feminist movement in Spain has been gaining momentum in calling for a re-evaluation and eradication of the nation’s often-deadly culture of machismo. The March 8 women’s strikes were symbolic of a flourishing movement of solidarity and a strong desire to transform Spain’s underlying patriarchal norms; this response to the La Manada decision only strengthens the collective voice of Spanish women that has been growing over time.
But despite an uptick in mobilization, political figures remain divided on issues of feminism and women’s rights. Commentators suggest that the mobilization of politicians like that of Ciudadanos, the new liberal party, are merely galvanizing off the momentum of the feminist movement in an attempt to further their own aims; others think that the lack of mobilization on behalf of politicians, particularly Prime Minister Rajoy and his party, Partido Popular, shows a devaluing of women’s lives—one best demonstrated by Deputy Prime Minister Santamaria calling for the government to respect the court’s ruling and instead seek ways to avoid such acts happening in the future, rather than re-evaluating the relevant law.
Prosecutors have publicly stated their intention to appeal the verdict, and the ruling could potentially be overturned if the Supreme Court finds that the pack utilized sufficient intimidation to define their actions as rape. Some activists and commentators, however, are already thinking bigger than La Manada—and have issued calls for re-drafting Spain’s penal code, which was last changed in 1995.
The future of this case isn’t clear—but what has been clarified in the aftermath of this injustice is the power of Spain’s feminist movement, and its potential and intention to seek policy change and build a culture of accountability for sexual violence.