Spain's top court finds 'Wolf Pack' guilty of rape

Angel Boza, a member of the group known as La Manada ("The Wolf Pack"), exits a courthouse in Seville, Spain, June 21, 2019.
Angel Boza, a member of the group known as La Manada ("The Wolf Pack"), exits a courthouse in Seville, Spain, June 21, 2019. PHOTO: REUTERS

MADRID (REUTERS) - Spain's Supreme Court on Friday (June 21) found five men who attacked a teenager at a bull-running festival guilty of rape, overturning a previous sentence for the lesser crime of sexual assault that led to protests across Spain over chauvinism and sexual abuse.

The Supreme Court's ruling, hailed by womens' rights groups, accepted that the victim's ordeal met the requirement in Spanish law that the plaintiff in a rape case must present evidence of intimidation or specific violence.

Lawyers for the woman, who was 18 when she was gang-raped in a doorway early in the morning at the 2016 San Fermin festival by the five men who called themselves the "Wolf Pack", argued that shock and fear had stopped her from fighting them.

The Supreme Court agreed, saying the attack "cannot be considered a crime of sexual abuse, but a crime of rape... because the factual account describes a scenario of true intimidation, in which the victim did not at any moment consent to the sexual acts carried out by the accused".

In proceedings broadcast live on national television, the Supreme Court increased the mens' sentence to 15 years in jail rather than the nine years they had been given for sexual abuse by the regional court.

Both the woman and the five men had appealed to Spain's highest court following the original conviction and sentencing.

The men, who included a serving police officer, had shared videos of the incident in a WhatsApp group and joked about it shortly afterwards.

 
 

The teenager was found crying on a bench by a couple who rang the police when she said she had been attacked.

One of the men was sentenced to an additional two years in jail for stealing the victim's phone. They collectively need to give €100,000 (S$150,000) as compensation to the victim.

The defendants' lawyers had argued the woman consented to sex. "The victim could have said 'No'," lawyer Agustin Martinez told the court. The lower court had said the men could not be convicted of rape without proof they had used physical violence.

But Spain's public prosecutor Isabel Rodriguez agreed in court that violence and intimidation was used, saying: "You can't ask victims to act in a dangerously heroic way."

PROTESTS

Protests were organised last year throughout Spain after the regional court's verdict. Thousands brandished banners that read "I believe you sister" and chanted "It's not abuse, it's rape".

The men's release from jail during the appeal process on a legal technicality that no one can be held for more than two years without a definitive sentence further fuelled protests calling for tougher punishment of sex crimes.

Victor Sarasa, a lawyer for the city of Pamplona, told the court on Friday the gang had "applied enough force to bend the will of the victim".

Hundreds of people dressed in white shirts and red neckerchiefs run down Pamplona's narrow streets in front of fighting bulls as part of its annual festival.

The event, which draws thousands of tourists, is just as famous for the drinking and revelry on the sidelines, with huge street parties, processions and firework displays.

Marisa Soleto, head of the Women's Foundation pro-equality group, welcomed Friday's ruling but said the law still needed to be changed.

"What we like in particular about this ruling is that we won't have to be ashamed about it as we were with the previous one," she told Reuters.

"However, we still demand that the legislation for crimes against sexual freedom be reviewed."