Spanish activists prepare to take rape trial to supreme court in new challenge to consent laws

Spanish feminist groups are expecting a gang rape trial resuming in Barcelona on Monday to go to the supreme court, as activists criticise the country’s rape laws.

The court has already heard the testimony of the alleged victim – who claims she was raped at a party in the Catalan town of Manresa in 2016 when she was 14 – and from the seven men accused of attacking her.

The hearings will continue with the testimony of experts who will analyse DNA samples. Their conclusions could determine whether the seven men are convicted of rape or sexual abuse.

Activists in Manresa fear the ruling in Barcelona will be too lenient, due to Spain’s idiosyncratic rape laws. “The fact that she went willingly with the accused because she knew one of them is what is seen as counting as consent. Was she taken away at knifepoint? No, so it is not rape [under Spanish law],” said Pilar Polo, a spokesman for the Vicki Bernadet Foundation.

Spain’s rape laws came under scrutiny during the high-profile trial for the so-called Wolf Pack gang rape in 2018. The case sparked the biggest women’s rights protests in Spanish history after five men were initially convicted of sexual abuse instead of rape after attacking a woman in Pamplona. The Spanish supreme court changed the verdict to rape in June.

The so-called 'Wolf Pack' gang rape in 2018 sparked the biggest women’s rights protests in Spanish historyCredit:
Gari Garaialde/Getty Images

Anticipating a similar supreme court battle, supporters of the alleged victim in Manresa are set to launch a campaign to help pay for the proceedings.

“We’ll be there when the trial resumes,” said Lila Corominas, a spokesman for Acció Lila, a leading feminist group. “Trials are long and hard. We also know they are not cheap.”

The rise of the movement has triggered a backlash from anti-feminist groups, most notably Vox, the far-Right party. Vox’s political agenda includes repealing gender violence laws, banning abortion, and combating what it calls “fake reports” of rapes.

Commenting on the trial, Ignacio Garriga, the leader of Vox in Catalonia, said: “I’m sick at those who remain silent when a rape is committed by an undocumented migrant, or as it’s the case, migrant children.”

Vox claims to be the party that “best defends” Spanish women, and says it does this by demanding prison without parole for rapes. It often links rapes with migration, with Santiago Abascal, its leader, claiming that “the great majority” of rapists are immigrants.

Since the Pamplona trial, the number of rapes and gang rapes reported has increased dramatically. Experts and police believe the number of rapes committed has remained steady, but victims feel more confident to speak out.

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