In July of 2016, an 18-year-old woman from Madrid traveled with a friend to Pamplona, Spain to experience the city’s Running of the Bulls festival. Although the festival is known to be fairly dangerous, it is attended by millions of people from all over the world every year who hope to outrun the bulls. However, instead of encountering a stampeding herd as she had expected, the woman, referred to in the media as la víctima – “the victim” – was attacked by “the wolf pack.”
The victim had lost sight of her friend and was walking to her car when she was approached by five men who, after striking up a conversation with her, insisted on walking her to the vehicle. The men then led her to a doorway, pushed her inside, and took turns raping her. They filmed the rape using their smartphones and bragged about it in a WhatsApp group message where they referred to themselves as la mandana, “the wolf pack.”
The victim supplied descriptions of her attackers to the police and all five men were arrested the next day. A confiscated phone contained video evidence of another similarly horrific attack, as well as messages dated prior to the rapists’ arrival at the festival denoting the need for date rape drugs “because when we get there, we’ll want to rape everything we set eyes on.”
The trial, which began in November of 2017, took an unexpected turn when the victim’s own social media behavior was used as evidence against her. The five accused men claimed that the woman was not raped, but had consented to having group intercourse with all of them. Their defense attorneys managed to procure content from the victim’s social media accounts and presented the posts as proof that she had not suffered trauma following the alleged incident.
The prosecution, as well as feminist collectives from all over the world, interpreted the defense tactic as a form of slut-shaming and a variation of the problematic trope that “she was asking for it because her dress was too short.”
In addition to the social media posts, the evidence against the victim included photographs that were obtained by a private detective without the victim’s knowledge or consent over the course of several days.
The evidence, save for one social media post, was ultimately withdrawn by the defense due to public outcry. The only post that was kept was a photo that featured the victim wearing a shirt that said “Hagas lo que hagas, quítate las bragas,” meaning, “Whatever you do, make sure you take off your underwear” – a quote from the popular television series Super Shore, a spin-off of the MTV’s Jersey Shore.
“That someone who’s presumably suffered sexual assault would post, ‘Whatever you do, take off your underwear,’ on social media just days before giving her testimony in court, well honestly, that doesn’t seem like a trivial fact that shouldn’t be analyzed during the proceeding, to determine the plaintiff’s profile as well as to determine the existence of post-traumatic stress for which she’s asking a lot of money in compensation,” Agustín Martínez Becerra, one of the defense lawyers representing three of the accused, told PRI.
Human rights attorney Carla Vall, who is not involved in the case, argued that the use of the victim’s social media posts against her is perpetuating the false stigma that women who enjoy their sexuality cannot be assaulted and traumatized. “That she had a drink with her friends or went out partying doesn’t mean she’s not experiencing any after effects. Besides, there can be a crime and no trauma; each woman has different psychological and emotional reactions,” Vall said.
Vall claims that analyzing the victim’s social media persona and using her posts as evidence unfairly puts her on trial for a crime that was committed against her. Paradoxically, a large amount of evidence against the accusers that was obtained via their WhatsApp accounts was denied. What is puzzling about this is that the court allowed the defense’s social media evidences, but rejected the prosecution’s attempts to present the WhatsApp messages. Becerra claims that this is because the conversation occurred before the alleged crime.
“This case transcends the courts; it’s a societal debate about our everyday relationships, how we relate to each other, how do men experience sexuality,” Vall noted. “This sentence will mark us for many years and will crystallize notions regarding sexuality, consent and desire.”
The trial is still awaiting a verdict.
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