In another bitter blow for the victim and other rape survivors nationwide, José Ángel Prenda, Ángel Boza, Jesús Escudero, Antonio Manuel Guerrero and Alfonso Jesús Cabezuelo – all originally from Sevilla and who go under the collective street name of La Manada (‘The Herd’) have been freed after paying a bail release to the tune of €6,000 each.
They had already been sentenced, but have appealed, and their release has been agreed until the final verdict comes through.
Protesters have already been storming the streets in every province since the end of April, when the male judges in charge of the case decided they were not guilty of rape, which carries a sentence of up to 20 years, but instead ‘sexual abuse’, which cut their custodial terms to nine years each.
According to the magistrates, no force, violence or intimidation had been used and the victim had not struggled, nor had she expressly refused sex.
The young woman, on holiday from Madrid, had been very drunk when the men offered to walk her home but instead took her into a doorway and took turns to rape her whilst filming each other.
She said she had opted to ‘let them get on with it’ so they would leave her alone and she could escape.
The judge said she was not raped as she did not ‘feel any pain’.
One magistrate even called for La Manada to be acquitted altogether of every charge except that of stealing her mobile phone, and went as far as to claim that the video footage – which investigating police officers had described as ‘harrowing’ – was ‘vulgar’ but showed that ‘everyone was having a jolly good time’.
Whilst the as-yet-unnamed victim did not want to prolong her ordeal by appealing the lenient sentence, her lawyer talked her into doing so as a successful result could set a precedent for rape victims nationwide.
The gang, formed through initiation rites and whose members have existing criminal records – including the one who stole her phone, a Guardia Civil officer by profession – had already been talking of perverse ways they planned to enjoy themselves whilst on the journey to Pamplona.
One of them was recorded saying it would be ‘fun’ to force a Basque native to ‘sing their regional anthem in Castilian Spanish with a gun to their head’.
The off-duty Guardia Civil officer who stole the victim’s mobile said he did so ‘because he liked it and wanted to have it’.
Members of THEMIS, the association of lady judges in Spain – who published an open letter condemning the milder sentence against La Manada in April – say the gang’s release is an ‘insult’ to women everywhere and places them in real danger of lack of legal protection if they are ever raped in the same circumstances.
THEMIS’ gender violence expert Durán Febrer said: “Girls who live near La Manada will now be terrified.”
Spain’s new socialist government is unable to comment due to its requirement to be impartial in the face of court verdicts, but the party itself at national level says it is ‘vital’ they get on with their planned law reform regulating how judges deal with violent crimes against women.
However, even once the reform is complete, it may not apply to ‘The Herd’, since their attack on the young woman – who is between 10 and 20 years younger than the gang members – would have been prior to the changes and a retroactive application may be considered illegal.
Even female members of Spain’s recently-ousted government have voiced their disapproval – as far as they are able.
Former defence minister María Dolores de Cospedal tweeted: “However much I respect judges’ decisions, no court verdict will change my commitment to the fight against sexist violence.”