And nearly 2,000 psychologists and psychiatrists in Spain have signed an open letter to the ministry of justice.
Judges at Navarra regional court decided that the young woman from Madrid, who is now 20, had not been raped because there was ‘no force or violence’, she did not show signs of being in pain and, as she was very drunk at the time, did not appear to put up any resistance.
The five Sevilla men who make up the street gang known as La Manada (‘The Herd’), the youngest of whom was eight years older than the victim, filmed each other taking it in turns to have sex with the girl they had offered to walk back to her hotel after the bull-running at Pamplona’s Sanfermines festival.
Despite police and the prosecution describing the video footage as ‘upsetting’ and ‘harrowing’, the court did not find La Manada guilty of rape, which carries a sentence of over 20 years, but instead of the lesser offence of ‘sexual abuse’, subject to a nine-year custodial term.
One magistrate, Ricardo Javier González González, cast a ‘protest vote’ calling for the five to be acquitted of everything except stealing the victim’s mobile phone, saying his interpretation of the videos was that ‘everyone was having a fun time’ in ‘crude but consenting sexual relations’.
The mental health experts – 1,869 in total – who signed the open letter to minister Rafael Catalá say becoming momentarily ‘paralysed’, freezing or ‘blocked’ are ‘automatic and normal reactions’ in a situation that causes panic.
To this end, the fact that the girl in Pamplona remained passive and did not resist was a response to fear, pain and emotional distress, the missive says, meaning the issue of ‘consent’ does not come into the equation and ‘does not make sense’.
All the signatories are specialists in supporting victims of rape, sexual abuse and gender or relationship violence, and said their intention in writing was to provide ‘scientific evidence’ that could help clarify the case and which, ‘under no circumstances’, renders the victim the ‘focus of attention’.
They cited the ‘Polyvagal’ theory first referred to by psychiatrist Stephen Porges, whose research findings showed that when faced with the ‘threat of death, serious injury or sexual violence’, a ‘common response’ is ‘immobilisation, slower heart rate and reduced sensitivity to pain’.
In accordance with the Porges theory, the letter explains, the so-called ‘block-out’ is a biological response and ‘a rapid-reaction technique produced by the nervous system’ to aid survival and minimise the impact of the ‘threatening event’.
When this happens, the organism automatically ‘generates substances’ in order to ‘produce an analgesic effect’ in response to pain, as well as ‘dissociation and paralysis’ – which explains why rape victims not only freeze but sometimes even produce what the letter refers to as an ‘automatic sexual reaction’.
This means the issue of consent and the Pamplona victim’s allegedly ‘enjoying herself’, as her attackers claimed, ‘has no place in this investigation’.
The psychiatrists and psychologists who signed – both male and female – criticised the ‘patriarchal system’ which had led to the Manada being acquitted of rape, saying the trial ordeal and result could produce ‘very serious consequences’ for ‘society in general’ as well as ‘individual women’.
They say the solution is to support rape victims in recovering from their ordeal ‘instead of criticising her and subjecting her to vigilance’, which ‘only serves as a continuation of the assault’ and can ‘even contribute to the trauma resurfacing’.
The writers say they are ‘deeply concerned’ with the way the debate has focused ‘excessively’ on the victim instead of the rapists and in lieu of taking steps that could lead to ‘achieving a violence-free society’.
Court verdicts and investigations of this nature should always include ‘expert advice’, say the signatories.
They highlight the ‘urgent need for prevention’ of sexual crimes, including ‘non-patriarchal’ sexual education from earliest childhood from a ‘gender, structural and across-the-board perspective’ which is ‘geared towards protecting women’s rights’.