New ruling on Spanish ‘Wolfpack’ sex assault sparks backlash

Five men convicted of sexually abusing woman at Pamplona festival but absolved of rape

Ángel Boza, one of the members of so-called Wolfpack, leaves the higher court of justice of Navarre on Wednesday after being released on bail. Photograph: Raul Caro/EPA

Ángel Boza, one of the members of so-called Wolfpack, leaves the higher court of justice of Navarre on Wednesday after being released on bail. Photograph: Raul Caro/EPA

 

A court in northern Spain has triggered outrage by confirming a controversial ruling issued earlier this year convicting a group of five men known as the “Wolfpack” of sexually abusing a young woman but absolving them of rape.

In April, the defendants were given nine-year jail sentences for abusing an 18-year-old woman during the San Fermín bull-running festival in Pamplona in July 2016. However, they were acquitted of rape charges, sparking a wave of protests and criticism of the regional court in Navarre.

In Wednesday’s sentence, which followed an appeal by both the victim and the defendants, the Navarre high court of justice reiterated the original ruling.

Both decisions had hinged on whether or not there had been violence or intimidation during the assault, either of which would have constituted rape.

Wednesday’s decision again ruled out both intimidation and violence in this case. However, the court did acknowledge that there is “a subtle difference” between intimidation and “taking undue advantage” of the victim, the latter of which was deemed to be applicable in this instance. The court also underlined that the victim’s testimony was not in doubt.

Media attention

The original five-month trial drew enormous media attention. The five defendants, who were nicknamed “the Wolfpack” (or la Manada in Spanish) because of the name of a WhatsApp group they shared, met the victim in the early hours of the morning during the bull-running festival and offered to accompany her to her car. Instead, they led her to a building doorway where they removed her clothes and had sexual relations with her, filming some of the encounter on their phones.

The victim was found shortly afterwards and the men, all from Seville and in their 20s, were arrested. One of them is a civil guard.

However, this time the court’s ruling was not unanimous, with two of the five judges issuing a dissenting opinion that there had in fact been “intimidation and coercion”. These two magistrates believed that the five men should have been convicted of rape and sentenced to 14 years and three months in prison.

Meanwhile, the court said that the men should face a new ruling on whether they committed a violation of intimacy by filming and then sharing footage of the assault.

Backlash

Once again, the ruling drew a backlash. Deputy prime minister Carmen Calvo tweeted: “We share the concern of the population at the judiciary’s divided criteria regarding the #LaManada sentence.”

The leader of Podemos, Pablo Iglesias, criticised the court, all of whose magistrates were men in this case, saying that the ruling showed sexism is “installed” in the judiciary. He added that the sentence is saying that if a woman “doesn’t kick and punch and scream then she is not being raped”.

Feminist groups staged demonstrations against the ruling on Wednesday night in several cities.

The victim is now expected to take the case to the Spanish supreme court, as are the five convicted men, who are on bail. Agustín Martínez Becerra, the lawyer for four of the defendants, said they will seek to prove their innocence of the sexual abuse charge and that “there were consensual sexual relations between six adults”.