Span­ish 'Wolf Pack' ver­dict up­held, prompt­ing fresh protests

The Guardian Australia - - World News - Sam Jones in Madrid

A court in north­ern Spain has up­held a con­tro­ver­sial ver­dict that five men ac­cused of gang-rap­ing a woman at the run­ning of the bulls fes­ti­val in Pam­plona two years ago were guilty of sex­ual abuse rather than the more se­ri­ous of­fence of rape.

The ver­dict in the ‘Wolf Pack’ case – so known be­cause of the name the men gave their What­sApp group – prompted protests across Spain and led the then-gov­ern­ment to launch a re­view of sex­ual of­fences leg­is­la­tion.

The de­ci­sion to up­hold the sen­tence led to the an­nounce­ment of fresh protests across Spain on Wed­nes­day evening.

The trial, which ended in April this year with all five de­fen­dants be­ing sen­tenced to nine years’ im­pris­on­ment, was heav­ily crit­i­cised for be­ing a cros­sex­am­i­na­tion of the 18-year-old woman rather than the men who at­tacked her.

In a rul­ing re­leased on Wed­nes­day, the Navarre supreme court con­firmed the nine-year sen­tences im­posed by a lower re­gional court but said they could still be ap­pealed in the na­tional supreme court.

How­ever, the rul­ing re­vealed that two of the five judges had ar­gued that the de­fen­dants should have been found guilty of sex­ual as­sault and handed 14-year sen­tences on the grounds that in­tim­i­da­tion had been used in the at­tack.

Ex­plain­ing its de­ci­sion, the court said: “In the opin­ion of the ma­jor­ity of the court, the con­cur­rence of in­tim­i­da­tion – needed to prove sex­ual as­sault or rape – is doubt­ful given that the facts es­tab­lished by the sen­tence of the pro­vin­cial court do not amount to in­tim­ida­tory or threat­en­ing ac­tions, whether ex­press or tacit, on the part of the de­fen­dants.”

Dur­ing the trial, de­fence lawyers had claimed the woman had con­sented and had let one of the men kiss her. They also ar­gued that 96 sec­onds of video footage from the men’s phones – show­ing the woman im­mo­bile and with her eyes shut dur­ing the at­tack – was proof of con­sent.

The pros­e­cu­tion, how­ever, said the vic­tim had been too ter­ri­fied to move.

“The de­fen­dants want us to be­lieve that on that night they met an 18-year-old girl, liv­ing a nor­mal life, who – af­ter 20 min­utes of con­ver­sa­tion

with peo­ple she didn’t know – agreed to group sex in­volv­ing ev­ery type of pen­e­tra­tion, some­times si­mul­ta­ne­ously, with­out us­ing a con­dom,” the pros­e­cu­tor Elena Sarasate said.

In Wed­nes­day’s rul­ing, the five Navarre supreme court judges said they had de­cided to unan­i­mously re­ject the de­fen­dants’ ap­peals and backed the pro­vin­cial court’s con­clu­sion that the vic­tim’s tes­ti­mony was true.

“In short, the court af­firms that the sex­ual re­la­tions un­der con­sid­er­a­tion were car­ried out by the de­fen­dants with­out the free con­sent of the vic­tim,” it said.

There were fur­ther protests in June this year af­ter the five de­fen­dants were re­leased on bail pend­ing ap­peals against their sen­tences.

The hu­man rights group Women’s Link World­wide has de­scribed the ver­dict in the Wolf Pack case as the sec­ond worst ju­di­cial de­ci­sions of the year, and given it a sil­ver blud­geon gong in its gen­der and jus­tice awards. First place went to the Su­danese court that sen­tenced 19-year-old Noura Hus­sein to death for killing her abu­sive hus­band to death as he tried to rape her.

“The opin­ions of those two judges show how it’s pos­si­ble to have dif­fer­ent in­ter­pre­ta­tions of the same facts,” said Aintzane Márquez, a Women’s Link lawyer. “That’s why it’s so im­por­tant for both male and fe­male judges to get gen­der per­spec­tive train­ing.

“Peo­ple need to bear in mind that laws have tra­di­tion­ally been writ­ten by men. That means that very of­ten, the law doesn’t take into ac­count the vi­o­lent ex­pe­ri­ences we face as women. What we recog­nise as vi­o­lence, in­tim­i­da­tion and rape isn’t seen as such by the courts.”

Pho­to­graph: Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images

A demon­stra­tion held over the ver­dict in the ‘Wolf Pack’ case in Madrid, Spain.

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