A global uprising against rape case injustices
Tens of thousands of people marched in Spain in April, protesting for three days over a court’s failure to convict five men of the gang rape of an 18-year-old woman during the Pamplona bull-running festival in 2016. The men had offered to walk the teenager to her car but instead they took her to the lobby of a nearby building, attacked her, then stole her phone. She was found crying on a bench.
Videos of the assault shot by the accused were used in court as evidence that the victim - who stayed still and closed her eyes - was consenting. The court decreed that there had been no violence or intimidation and therefore convicted the men of the lesser charge of sexual abuse. By this logic, a victim can’t be raped unless she screams and fights back. Yet overwhelming evidence tells us that the majority of rape victims do not do this: they freeze. Protesters chanted “This justice is bullshit!” after the verdict was read out.
The Spanish demonstrations came on the heels of fiery rallies in Ireland following the acquittal of two rugby players on all charges of the rape and sexual assault of a 19-year-old Belfast student. The woman’s underwear had been passed around the courtroom. She was on the stand for eight days, while the men, by comparison, testified for a half-day each. As the official statement of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre em- phasized, while the men were represented by skilled, experienced Queen’s counsel, the young woman was unrepresented.
The men are not guilty but the treatment of the complainant highlighted structural deficiencies in the legal system. Within hours of the verdict in late March, #Ibelieveher was the top-trending hashtag in Ireland. In the wake of the trial, Ireland’s minister for justice is reviewing the legal protections offered to sexual assault complainants.
Indian activists have also been on the march. A trial began on April 28 of seven Hindu men, including a retired government official and two serving police officers, and one boy accused of the rape and murder of an eight-year-old Muslim girl, Asifa Bano, in a town in Kashmir in January. Investigators say that the child was drugged, held captive and raped for days. When police tried to register the charge at the court, they were greeted by a Hindu nationalist mob trying to prevent them.
There is extraordinary energy in these movements, energy rooted in the knowledge that something is deeply wrong with legal and political systems in which it is the accuser and not the accused on trial; in which women can be blamed for not physically fighting off men; in which powerful men can rape with impunity; in which sexual violence