Disclaimer: Reader discretion advised. This entry, which will only be in English, discusses sexual assault and could be triggering.
The date was 7 July 2016. The location was San Fermines in Pamplona.
A young woman was celebrating the popular Pamplona fiestas, known as the “Running of the Bulls” in the U.S. and had a bit too much to drink. She sat down on a bench and was approached by five men from Sevilla, including a member of the Guardia Civil police and an ex military servant. While promising they would help her, they took her to a hotel where they were denied a room for hours “para follar”. They later snuck into an apartment building. She was scared. They forced themselves upon her.
A few months ago, a group of Spanish judges determined that the case was only “sexual abuse”, not “rape”, because there were no weapons, which meant lighter sentences. In June, they were out on the streets, free. One already went into renew his passport.
Virtually every Spanish woman and most Spanish men have been extremely upset about the verdict.
I can’t speak for women, nor do I want to try. I want them to share their own stories and speak for themselves, and I will support them. However, I can speak from my own experiences as a gay man and what I have gone through. I don’t want to take away from the #MeToo movement, but to start a new conversation for gay men and what many of us experience from our own community (not to mention homophobia and discrimination.)
To me, “no means no”. At any point, if someone says no, the encounter should stop. Yet too many times, it somehow gets interpreted to mean “continue.”
Machismo is alive and well, especially in the gay bars and on gay apps. If you don’t use a stall in the gay bar, it’s apparently consent. If you reply “hola”, it’s taken as consent to have pictures of someone’s genitalia sent to you, which, unfortunately, is rampant all over the world. The understanding sexual assault course I had to do online prior to starting grad school states this is a form of sexual harassment, folks.)
Many times, I have felt pressured to go further than I wanted to, despite the fact I continually said no. There were no weapons, but I was still scared to say no. Those Spanish judges would consider it “abuse”, not “assault”. So many guys don’t understand the word “no”.
And then there was not one but two incidents in the past year with former flatmates.
One arrived drunk at 2 am, opened my bedroom door, climbed into my bed and started talking off my pyjamas, saying “Te voy a follar”. He suddenly had to use the toilet, and I barricaded the room shut with a chest. I slept with my hiking poles under my pillow for two weeks until I could leave.
Then the next one didn’t try physical force but emotional manipulation. He kept asking me to have sex with him, kept trying to get me drunk so I would say yes. I didn’t want that type of living situation, especially with him. Weeks of dealing with his alcoholism and persistence in trying to get me to sleep with him lead me to packing up in the middle of the night and leaving.
This played a part of the reason why I’m leaving Spain. If I can’t find a job where I can live in a safe place, free from this worry….
Of course, these things can and do happen in the U.S. too. The very first time I met another gay man in person, he coerced me into going much farther than I was ready to go, used my romantic feelings to manipulate me and informed me that “gay men never tell each other no.”
Consensual sex is a wonderful, fantastic thing between two willing adults. However, for many men, their own erection means the other person has automatically given consent.
I believe women. I also feel that sexual assault is much more prevalent in the gay community than we want to admit. Sexual assault in all forms needs to stop.
As for that woman who just wanted to have fun during San Fermines, #yosítecreo. The men deserved a tougher punishment. It was sexual assault, not abuse. She was NOT asking for it. For the record, the judges who reached this decision were all men.
Both the US and Spain can do better.