European Union

The Wolf Pack verdict: a war-like sentence

The indefensible dropping of gang rape charges by a Spanish court has fundamentally undermined the justice system.

At one o’clock in the afternoon expectations were at breaking point. For days you could feel a kind of countdown, the prelude to one those events that break through inertia and change the course of things. It had been clear for weeks that this wasn’t going to leave anyone indifferent. ‘Alert’ was the word on social networks: feminist alert. It was not a false alarm. Everything pointed to some kind of re-adjustment, a sentence that was a kind of challenge. Yet none of this background prevented the surprise, and even less the outrage, to come.

A few minutes after the president of the Second Section of the Provincial Court, José Francisco Cobo, read the ruling, groups of women, their hands clad in red gloves, displayed their pain and incomprehension. On social media one word was buzzing without stop: ABUSE. A meagre and limited word that fails to define what happened to the 18 year old girl that on a morning of 7 July 2016 encountered five men with a well defined plan: to fuck her regardless of her will. According to the Penal Code, ‘abuse’ discards aggression or intimidation. The sentence calls what happened shortly after this fateful encounter “sexual abuse”. On top of this, one of the judges, Ricardo González, once again called for the absolution of the five men.

One needs to read the proven facts of the sentence with a deeply embedded patriarchal myopia, a real patriarchal cataract in the eyes, to not see violence or intimidation in the fact that five adult men put a girl alone in a doorway and did what they wanted to her body.

And yet they didn’t believe her. After all the expectation, the sentence has been revealed as something warlike. Thisisthewar, noted journalists and activists alongside many sad and furious anonymous women: thisisthewar. Meanwhile, calls multiplied to refuse to give up on the street what has been lost in the courts: the right to justice.

They did not believe her. Ricardo González, the famous judge who called for absolution, is an exemplar of the vain skepticism behind what is supposedly ‘neutrality’. Months ago, while watching the videos that the defendants recorded with their mobiles, he focused his accustomed gaze on the expressions of the girl while she was being humiliated. He was looking for a gesture that would betray her, an equivocal moan, anything that would affirm him in his suspicion that this woman was lying. She was lying and manipulating. If there was no consent or she was forced, why didn’t she communicate her disagreement? Things did not fit. González has never had to feel helpless or able to imagine his own reaction in a situation like the one the girl went through. And yet he suspected that she did not suffer enough. For him she did something wrong in the context, she did not meet some of the requirements to be considered a raped woman. The reflections of this judge show a solidarity of gender towards the perpetrators in front of a victim who is systematically distrusted.

Lycanthropy and rape culture

Neither of the other two judges believed her either. They are the tip of an iceberg of thousands of men, and some women, who do not believe her either. And along with the victim, millions of women feel unbelieved too. Indignation mobilizes their bodies in what feels like an increasingly strong political actor, with the capacity to respond, more and more quickly, exchanging keyboards for protest in the streets as rage grows and the sorority calls. Patriarchy is not alien to the dimension that the feminist movement is taking. Perhaps this sentence is not the result of patriarchal blindness, but a form of response from those who feel their power at risk. An alarm that is ringing, a reminder that justice is not feminist and it won’t be feminist any time soon.

Before the judges’ verdict the defence lawyers made their own show: there was so much evidence, the abuse of power, the intimidation and violence, was so obvious, that the only possible response was to dispute the victim’s testimony, attack her credibility, challenge each one of her acts. They were unscrupulous when re-victimizing her, apparently comfortable in their role of spitting judgments at her, a strategy that they considered valid to push the limits of the story towards the comfort zone of those who have no urgency to attack patriarchy because that is the air they breathe. She was supposed to have seen what was coming, and run away. She had to show that she did not want what was happening to continue even at the risk – perhaps – of her own life. If she is not killed or beaten, the word of a rape victim will always be in doubt. How could they have imagined that their number and volume would intimidate her? She should have fought against that intimidation if she wanted people to believe her.

This is a conflict with an enormous symbolic charge. For feminists it implies a loss of faith in the judicial institution, a rupture of the frame. The hashtag #YoSíTeCreo (#Ibelieveyou), has its destabilizing counterpart: mistrust in justice. This has individual and collective consequences. It erodes the security of victims in cases of violence. It pushes people to think about forms of self-defence that go beyond institutions.

The case of La Manada [The Wolf Pack] has several elements that make it so repulsive. Group sexual violence; a process of re-victimization of the raped woman; a media coverage that has been at times spectacularizing, and at times, even violent towards the victim; a suspended judicial process, ending with an insufficient sentence. On the other hand, a gang rape, committed by “nice guys”, not marginal people or foreigners, socially integrated and even handsome boys, who trivialize their actions, trivialize the submission of a woman, reify her to the extreme and dispose of her body at their pleasure. The fact that many people will take these images as something normal, speaks about something bigger and deeper. It speaks about a process in which reification is so complete that links with the woman’s well-being, her consent, or even her life, don’t matter. In that domination of the group, that none of them tries to prevent, there is a perversity that gives me vertigo: the ability of “common” men to exercise negative actions.

Manifestation in front of the Palau de la Generalitat in protest for the sentence of the Wolf Pack. Barcelona, April 26, 2018 | photo by: ELISE GAZENGEL

The logic of this group, built from domination and with other men as interlocutors, misses the feeling of impunity. If we don’t define these acts as what they are, violations, and if we don’t punish them accordingly, we are sending a message that the sexual freedom of women is not an absolute, that we must defend it with nails and teeth if it is threatened, because, otherwise, it could lead to confusion regarding any disagreement with a situation. Understanding consent as an a priori until the contrary is proved, puts the responsibility on women once again.

As Marcela Lagarde explains, this feeling of impunity is one of the components of the concept of femicide. It is not about the number of years, we must be careful not to fall into a mathematical revenge, demanding penalties as great as our anger. It is about the type of crime. Defining something as abuse sounds like warning sailors in turbulent times. It sounds like a reprimand for an excessive presence of feminism. It is not always progress, change is not always for better.

It is useful to look outside, to interpret the violence in a broader framework. What makes a group of young people consider as part of their leisure activity, as a valid experience, to rape a woman against her will? What makes many others emulate and admire them for that gesture? What makes a judge, in view of all the evidence, see all that as consensual sexual relationship? What has happened in recent years? They see women as objects, as a territory to express their power, as Rita Segato would say. Or are we in fact beginning to be antagonists, and this is actually war? Women have to be ready not to lose ground. We must also expand our space: moral outrage reaches many men. This outrage is a revulsion against injustice, it is the energy that mobilizes the frustrated. It is a challenge to remove what does not work, and which does not accept half-measures or representations.

This article was first published in Spanish on CTXT. It was translated by Marta Cillero.