Spanish 'Wolf Pack' verdict upheld, prompting fresh protests
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.”
A demonstration held over the verdict in the ‘Wolf Pack’ case in Madrid, Spain.