BARCELONA—This past summer, Spanish social media ran wild with a story about how a 14-year-old girl in the Catalan city of Manresa was brutally gang-raped by six North African teens while a seventh looked on.
Though the alleged assault dated back to October 2016, the story had slipped under the radar at the time and was gaining steam now that the accused were finally having their day in court. A collage containing pictures of smiling teens and Arabic text, titled “The Manresa rapists,” made the rounds on Facebook. Seizing on the news, leaders of the far right called North African children an out-of-control scourge threatening the safety of Spanish women.
Yet while an attack had indeed taken place, most of those inflammatory details were untrue. As a number of progressive outlets and fact-checking agencies were quick to point out, none of the accused were from North Africa—three were Spanish, another three Cuban, and the last was Argentine. None of them was a minor. And that Facebook collage? They were images of young people who’d died at sea while attempting to get to the Canary Islands from Morocco.
Sex crimes, especially gang rapes, have become something of a staple of Spanish news coverage on the heels of a high-profile trial known as the “Wolf Pack case,” in which a woman from Madrid accused five men from Andalusia, who collectively called themselves the Wolf Pack, of gang-raping her at Pamplona’s Running of the Bulls festival in July 2016. The shoddy handling of the case in the courts—the men were initially acquitted of rape and found guilty of a lesser crime of “sexual abuse” in a provincial court before the Supreme Court convicted them of rape this past June—launched Spain’s #MeToo movement. The campaign in turn vaulted sexual violence into a top political priority, the subject of televised debates among candidates in general elections this past April. The Socialist Party, which won those polls, has made feminism, including anti-sexual-violence measures, a central pillar of its politics, and enjoys nearly unanimous support in this endeavor, save for one outlier: the far-right party Vox, which campaigned on an anti-feminist platform. One of its chief messages was that anti-gender-violence legislation encouraged women to falsely accuse men and that in this day and age, men were the real victims.