As evening fell on Plaça de Sant Jaume in Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter, bathing City Hall’s stone facade in ocher light, the usual sounds of tourists pattering across the cobbled square were suddenly replaced by those of dozens, then hundreds of women pouring into the plaza, clanging pots and pans and jiggling keys in a strangely melodious cacophony. In a single voice they chanted: “Yo te creo”—“I believe you.”
Earlier that day, April 20, Spanish judges issued a ruling on Spain’s most high-profile rape case in recent memory: the Manada, or Wolf Pack case, in which an 18-year-old woman accused five men in their mid-20s of gang raping her during Pamplona’s Running of the Bulls in July 2016. The verdict acquitted the men of rape and instead convicted them of “sexual abuse,” a less serious offense for which they’ll serve nine years each behind bars.
According to Spanish law, a rape charge requires prosecutors to prove an assailant used “violence or intimidation.” If no act of coercion can be proven, the assault gets relegated to that of “abuse of power.” In the Wolf Pack case, judges ruled that the plaintiff’s behavior—shown in a series of videos the men took on their phones—was “passive,” and thus legally eliminated the possibility of coercion. One of the three judges presiding over the case (in Spain, judges rather than a jury vote on a sentence) even claimed the plaintiff exhibited “a total lack of inhibition…in a joyous environment.” He voted to clear the men of all charges. The plaintiff, for her part, told the judges that she froze in terror.
The reaction to the verdict was swift: By evening, thousands of women from Pamplona to Barcelona to Madrid had stormed the streets and plazas of their cities to voice outrage at what they saw as the judiciary’s failure to adequately prosecute sexual crimes. Thousands more took to Twitter to share their own brushes with machismo under the hashtag #Cuentalo (Tell Your Story), some going so far as to publicly denounce assailants, as women had done during France’s #BalanceTonPorc (Expose Your Pig) moment months before.
Like the accusations against Harvey Weinstein in the United States, the Manada verdict was “the bomb” that gave rise to Spain’s own #MeToo movement, the prominent Spanish human-rights activist Violeta Assiego says. But unlike in the United States where the focus has been on changing social norms by calling out powerful harassers, in Spain the onus is on changing legal frameworks. The women leading the charge are Spain’s feminist lawyers, and after years of pushing for legal reform, they’re seizing on the momentum to finally get it done.
While in the United States discussions of rape often focus on college campuses, Spain is grappling with the same issues at festivals, where drugs and alcohol add fuel to macho attitudes, making the terrain ripe for assault. Pamplona’s Running of the Bulls is the country’s internationally famous, seven-day bacchanal—a draw for Spaniards and tourists even before Ernest Hemingway immortalized its bullfighting bravado as the apotheosis of masculinity. Reports and rumors of assault abound each year. The 2008 rape and murder of Nagore Laffage—a 20-year-old woman who fought back against her assailant and was murdered for it—is the most haunting example of sexual violence at the festival. So when the Manada case began two years ago, it captured the attention and ire of women throughout Spain.