In November 1992, three 14-year-old girls – Miriam, Toñi and Desirée – disappeared in Alcàsser (Valencia). Their bodies were found three and a half months later: the three teenagers had been kidnapped, tortured, raped and murdered. The crime shocked Spanish society and gave rise to unprecedented media coverage due to its sensationalism and duration, which years later was harshly criticized. Several generations of young women grew up with Miriam, Toñi and Desirée in mind. Almost 30 years later, a researcher, Nerea Barjola, put a feminist lens on the case and concluded that this sexual crime did not serve to review the machismo of society and the construction of masculinity, but rather to discipline women. The Alcàsser case created a discourse of sexual terror for women.
It's May 2022 and several group sexual assaults are making headlines this week. Just a few months ago it was the rapes under chemical submission that occupied minutes and minutes in news and programs. The two events – chemical submission and group sexual assault – have competed in recent years for media attention, despite the fact that the available data does not allow us to know if this type of sexual violence has really increased in recent years. So, are we counting sexual violence or are we spectacularizing a specific type of rape and overshadowing others, less conspicuous but more frequent? Are we creating a new narrative of sexual terror for women?
The researcher and author of that critical review about the Alcàsser crime, which Nerea Barjola reflected in the book Sexist Microphysics of Power, confirms that multiple attacks have always existed. For her thesis, Barjola reviewed the literature on media coverage of sexual violence during the 1970s and up to 1993 and found news "plagued by multiple assaults." "Perhaps now the context helps to denounce them and not before," she points out. The researcher is concerned that the focus of attention is on those cases, in which there is chemical submission or multiple perpetrators, because it curtails the possibility of introducing the discourse that they are only part of the aggression "in a society that allows violence against women, a society where there is misogyny and a culture of rape sustained by socially accepted patterns and values".
"A part of sexual violence is being shown, one that scandalizes and that society rejects, but that actually prevents a political and feminist analysis of violence from being made. That society that is scandalized allows the existence of multiple daily sexual violence , focusing on these attacks patches up a social problem, which is none other than sexist violence.They are also usually treated from morbidity and focus on details that tend to make the victim responsible and that strengthen the spread of sexual terror ", he stresses.
The expert in sexual violence Bárbara Tardón mentions that the historiographical sources speak of group rapes in the Middle Ages or the Modern Age. "It's a ritual that has always existed," she explains. Back in 2014, she and other colleagues were already assisting victims of gang rape. "There is this explanation, which is not verified, that the easy access and consumption of pornography is behind these attacks. But we have many examples in which this consumption did not exist and group rapes did exist. In Guatemala, in the former Yugoslavia or in the Spanish Civil War there was no such consumption and gang rapes were committed. There are many factors that influence and the main one is called patriarchy and the ideology behind it, "he stresses.
An recent study of the University of Barcelona, the first national of these characteristics, which estimates the scope of sexual violence in our country and which was commissioned by the Ministry of the Interior, points out that each year in Spain there are up to 400,000 incidents of sexual violence, the vast majority against women or girls. 25% of these incidents are against minors. The estimate of the general detection of sexual violence in Europe stands at 2.17% and in Spain, says the report, the value is similar, which means that the system only detects 2.2% of this types of crimes and incidents. The most serious aggressions are those that are detected almost in their entirety, the study highlighted. In other words, "the dark figure" of sexual violence hides a huge number of aggressions that are perhaps less spectacular, and that neither reach the system nor the media.
"If it is reported that crimes of group sexual assault have increased because reports have increased, it is usually concluded that these types of violent and sexual events have increased. It is a premature conclusion that may be wrong. Reports may have increased, but not We know if the socio-community reality of these events has increased or if the proportion of complaints about them has really increased," the report said.
Given the perception that sexual violence is increasing, the study spoke, however, of a stabilization of sexual crimes, even a somewhat downward trend, except in the case of new online crimes. "We cannot guarantee with certainty that these events are increasing or that their reporting is increasing, although in the case of online crimes it is easy for it to grow because it is a new phenomenon," explained one of the authors, Andrés Pueyo. The evolution showed a decrease in the most serious crimes and an increase in other incidents.
Teresa Echevarría is a nurse and was the founder of the Domestic and Gender Violence Commission of the Hospital Clínic de Barcelona, which has had a care protocol for victims of sexual assault for 20 years. Echeverría is blunt about the huge media and social focus that group rapes or chemical submission have: "It's more show than reality." And not because they don't exist; Her own hospital has treated more cases of victims of group aggression in recent years than before, but she believes that the disproportionate and sometimes spectacular focus does not help to analyze the phenomenon proportionally and from a multidisciplinary perspective.
In any case, Echevarría insists that, beyond the details of how it is committed, sexual violence is always serious and the victim suffers it equally: "We always insist that, whatever it may be, it is just as serious for the victim, that sexual violence affects him and must be addressed equally. There are phenomena that must be understood to fight against them and that socially seem to affect more, but sexual violence is sexual violence and it is against a victim". In his hospital, he points out, they have been treating women who have suffered group attacks for decades, in the same way as assaults committed under chemical submission, which also includes alcohol.
"The problem is in another place and it is not attacked: the patriarchal structure that designates who is the owner of what and of whom. Let's begin to analyze the complexity of the phenomenon from a multidisciplinary perspective. When you make a superficial news about something like that, you almost say that the solution is also superficial, unidirectional, hardly anyone identifies with what happened," he insists. Most of the sexual violence they deal with does not occur under chemical submission – in about 30% of the victims they do detect the presence of substances, a figure that includes cases in which women were voluntarily under the influence of alcohol or drugs – nor is it group, it is rather "overwhelmingly individual".
The last Macro survey of Violence against Women published by the Ministry of Equality in September 2020 showed that 60% of sexual assaults are committed by known men. In the case of rapes, 20% are perpetrated by strangers compared to 80% by acquaintances, relatives or friends. 44.2% of women who report sexual violence say that it happened in a house. 32%, in open areas; 17.8%, in bars, clubs or restaurants.
Only 8% of women who suffer sexual assault outside the couple go to the courts, the Police or the Civil Guard. The reasons for not reporting give an idea of the extent to which sexual violence continues to stigmatize women. 40.3% of those who suffered sexual violence and 20.6% of the women who were raped did not report it due to shame. 8.4% because they felt that it was not important enough. 40.2% also report that the fact of being a minor discouraged them from going to court. 36.5% of the women who suffered sexual violence and did not report mentioned the fear of not being believed as a key factor.
For Bárbara Tardón, the conclusion is similar to that of Echeverría and Barjola: the focus on these cases "generates an alarm, makes invisible other forms of violence that are really the most structural" and ultimately contributes to creating "a terror that disciplines us once again." . Be careful, don't go out with guys. Be careful in leisure environments. Be careful with your glass. Beware of dating men through apps. Be careful, don't get in that car. Be careful, always us, be careful.