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Dr Deborah Madden
Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Spain
Study Abroad Studentship

Víctimas, violencia y violación: sexual violence narratives in contemporary Spain

Drawing on theories of gender, collective memory and victimhood, Deborah Madden’s project will interrogate how women navigate questions of (self-)representation and agency, tracing a legacy of the #YoTeCreo and #Cuéntalo movements by recovering leftist women’s ‘forgotten’ histories

People protest with pans and banners over decision Pamplona court to dismiss rape allegations in the infamous 'La Manada' sexual assault case. Elche, Spain, 26 April 2018, Sonia Bonet/Shutterstock.com.

In October 2019, a Barcelona court acquitted five men accused of raping a fourteen-year-old girl of serious sexual assault, convicting the group of the lesser-charge of sexual abuse. The trial attracted international attention for its alarming similarities to the now-infamous ‘la Manada’ rape case, which saw the five men – known as ‘la Manada’, or ‘wolf pack’ – who attacked an eighteen-year-old woman at the Pamplona running of the bulls festival in 2016 only convicted of rape after a retrial in June 2019; a re-sentencing that was undoubtedly a reaction to the outrage caused by the original sentences, as feminists throughout Spain took to the streets in mass demonstrations and showed support for the victim through the #YoTeCreo [#IBelieveYou] hashtag. 

Such high-profile cases have highlighted how sexual violence laws in Spain are mired in misogyny and prompted women to share their own experiences of sexual violence via the #Cuéntalo [#TellIt] hashtag, a Spanish-centric strand of the culture shifting #MeToo movement. From the inception of the Civil War (1936–1939), rape was used by male soldiers of both factors – the secular, Republican left and the Catholic, Nationalist rebels – to violate women associated with the opposition, making the female body a biopolitical locus in an intense ideological conflict that continues to divide Spain. 

My project will examine female-voiced testimonies of sexual violence, focusing on women associated with the feminist, Republican left, voices doubly-silenced during the Franco dictatorship (1939–1975) and subsequent ‘Pact of Forgetting’, a cross-party agreement to eschew critical reflection about the regime. 

By focusing on the Spanish case, this research will illustrate the critical and cultural capital of historicising analyses of women’s accounts of sexual violence. Findings will not only trace the legacy of feminist collective consciousness, but will also re-evaluate the significance of sex and gender-based violence in relation to how victimhood is understood in this context. Building on recent critical attempts to theorise and contextualise the politicisation of the ‘victim’ in post-dictatorship Spain, this project will offer new insight into how the immanently sexed crime of rape problematises the victim/aggressor dichotomy and offers a fresh perspective on how sharing experiences affords women a sense of agency and constructs a feminist community.  


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