Outrage amongst women in Spain over a court’s decision to clear five men of the crime of rape after they performed and filmed non-consensual sex with a teenager has led to an extraordinary outpouring of personal stories of male abuse on social media.
Using the hashtag #cuéntalo (tell it), tens of thousands of women have decided to show their solidarity with the victim in the “wolf pack” case, so called because of the name of the WhatsApp group her attackers used to comment on their sordid acts.
WARNING: You may find some of the accounts in this story disturbing.
Women have detailed instances in which they have suffered unwanted sexual attention or violent abuse from male family members, strangers or teachers and others in positions of authority.
The stories have trickled in to form a flood of anger about what women have had to endure, mostly in silence – until now.
“It was my father and it started before I can remember,” wrote Elisa. “Two years old, three? Less? I have just turned 41 and a few months ago I went back into therapy because, even if I think I have, I haven’t got over it. Chronic depression, anxiety attacks, nightmares… I never had a partner. Alone I feel safe.”
“When I was 12 a stranger masturbated on me on the city bus taking me home. I didn’t move. I felt shame, guilt, disgust. I didn’t tell anyone until years later. I lived as if it hadn’t happened but I didn’t wear a skirt again for years. It’s the first one I remember.”
“I was 13 when my teacher started touching me without my consent and he did it for three months, I was living through a depression and tried suicide, I am telling this because I am not scared anymore.”
When the five “wolf pack” men were handed nine-year jail sentences for sexual abuse but acquitted of full-blown rape last Thursday, hundreds of thousands of mainly women protesters thronged the streets of Spanish cities.
Spanish journalist Cristina Fallarás took her cue from the #MeToo movement, posting her own multiple experiences of abuse on Twitter and encouraging other women to #cuéntalo.
“I believe almost all of us have suffered some kind of sexual assault,” she wrote.
Some well-known female personalities in Spain have joined their voices to the movement, like Leticia Dolera, an actress and author, who tweeted her experience of being 15 in a quiet street.
“15 years old. A quiet street. A young man throws himself at me from behind and gropes my bum. He whispers: you’re lovely. I am speechless. He goes away. He comes back, doing the same but harder grabbing my hips and rubbing himself up against me. I scream. He goes away. Two people look at me. I feel shame.”
Victoria Rosell, a judge and former member of Congress for the anti-austerity Podemos party, tweeted fragments of the 12 times she said she had faced abusive situations.
“Among the 12 occasions I remembered yesterday because of Cristina’s #cuéntalo, I have an identical one to yours, at the age of 14. In the clubhouse toilet at a village party, opening the door to three men getting naked. 17. I am not telling about the times that I couldn’t escape. It’s painful to say: I am a judge and I never went to the police.”
Ms Rosell has also criticised her colleagues’ verdict in the “wolf pack” case.
Two of the three judges decided that actual intimidation had not taken place, even though they recognised that the 18-year-old victim had “frozen” once being surrounded inside a tiny alcove while her hair was pulled and body moved around by her attackers.
“The proven facts of the case are those of a rape,” she told Cadena Ser radio after the verdict had been published.
Calls for reform
The Spanish government has promised to revise the framing of the country’s rape laws, with opposition parties also supporting the need for reform.
Justice Minister Rafael Catalá took the unusual step of personally criticising the third judge in the case, who issued a minority verdict in favour of acquitting the five of any violent offence, claiming the sex had been consensual.
Mr Catalá said Judge Ricardo González was suffering from a “personal problem” and said it was the responsibility of Spain’s judicial watchdog to ensure judges were “in full possession of their faculties”.
Hours after the third straight night of protests against the verdict had taken place in Pamplona, a 34-year-old woman suffered a fatal beating in the city of Burgos, leading to the arrest of her 36-year-old former boyfriend.
Some of the #cuéntalo messages focused on what feminist campaigners in Spain have described as a “femicide”, after almost 1,000 women have been killed by partners or ex-partners since the government began keeping records of gender violence cases in 2003.
Blogger Alejandra Tuk tweeted about the shocking story of a woman killed in Granada in 1997. Her name was Ana Orantes.
“My husband abuses me. I ask for a divorce. The sentence obliges me to live on the second floor of my attacker’s house. I tell my story on TV. He gets annoyed because I report it, he comes round, ties me to a chair and burns me alive. I am telling you because Ana Orantes cannot.”