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Debate on reliving sexual trauma at court reopens after Sabadell gang-rape trial

Young woman explains events in detail during cold cross-examination by prosecutor

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07 April 2021 01:14 PM

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ACN | Barcelona

The trial over a gang-rape reported in Sabadell in early 2019, which is being held this week, has reopened the debate on whether victims of sexual abuse should be obliged to relive their trauma in court.

The public debate was reignited to the extent that Spain's equality minister, Irene Montero, complained about victims "having to experience the violence all over again."

She also said on Twitter that “all institutions must avoid forcing people to relive the violence that they experienced."  

Assaulted and raped by a group of men

On Tuesday, a young woman who was 18 when the events occurred explained that three people took part in the rape, one after the other, while three others witnessed the scene without helping her.

She also explained that the abuses took place at around 6 am on February 3, 2019 in the Barcelona metropolitan city area, when, on her way walking home from a bar, she was assaulted by some men and taken to an occupied industrial estate.

The victim went on to describe all the graphic details of the three successive rapes – including penetration and acts of fellatio – executed by men arguing among themselves in Arabic. She explained she had been crying and shaking during the incidents before they decided to release her.

Once she left the industrial estate, she spotted a car owned by a family that helped her and took her to the local police. 

An officer testified in court that she arrived devastated, and the health professional that took care of her when taken to the Parc Taulí hospital said she had wounds in her arms, legs, pubis and anus.

Tough cross-examination despite psychological sequelae

The young woman said that she has experienced a severe traumatic response stemming from that night and that she continues going to therapy.

Nevertheless, she had to go through the whole story again in tears while facing a tough and cold cross-examination by a public prosecutor, who interrupted her several times and questioned parts of her explanation.

For instance, the prosecutor asked her how she knew the attackers were arguing if she cannot speak Arabic. "Due to their tone, I could tell they were arguing," the victim retorted.

The attorney also interrupted her to ask whether she tried to flee and also made her contradict herself from the information which came from the police lineup of one of the accused.

She identified him as a rapist, but on Tuesday, after several questions by the prosecutor, she ended up confirming that while he was definitely present she was unsure about his role. "Is it clear for you yet?," asked the attorney.

Spain's head prosecutor for gender violence, Pilar Martín, said on Wednesday that her colleague "lacked empathy and sensitivity" in his cross-examination, and admitted that "psychological training" is needed in her field. 

The defense also pushed the victim further by asking her whether she gave consent to the sexual relationships, why she did not cry for help or ring any doorbell – the judge interrupted the cross-examination asking for understanding due to the "difficulties" the girl was facing when responding.

The version of the accused

On Wednesday, it was the time for the accused, who denied the sexual abuse. One of them admitted having sex with her, but only after her consent. "Did the girl enter this room voluntarily?," asked the prosecutor. "Yes, voluntarily. I swear to God and to my mother," he replied. 

The other denied having sex with the victim, and their defense said that she "still was willing to party, and she did not offer resistance or cry for help." 

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  • Screenshot of the courtroom where the trial on the gang-rape in Sabadell is held, on April 6, 2021

  • Screenshot of the courtroom where the trial on the gang-rape in Sabadell is held, on April 6, 2021

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