Vox is wrong to say 70% of gang rapes in Spain are committed by foreigners, says author of Home Office report Vox uses to justify claim

Interview: "In no case would it be appropriate to extrapolate that percentage to all group attacks."
By Matthew Bennett
Nov 08, 2019, 5:56 pm

Vox says foreigners are responsible for 70% of group sexual assaults in Spain, wolf-pack rape, and the party cites a report published by the Spanish Home Office in 2018 to justify its argument.

In an interview with The Spain Report, the author of the specific page of that study that talks about group sexual assaults, Meritxell Pérez Ramírez, rejects the way Santiago Abascal's party is using her work: "in no case" can that specific data be extrapolated to all foreigners, among other things because her group did not study all group sexual assaults in Spain in the year in question, 2010. They only analysed 400 police statements in which the victim did not know her attacker.

The Spain Report: Let's say hello to Meritxell Pérez Ramírez, good morning, Meritxell.

Meritxell Pérez Ramírez: Good morning.

TSR: You are one of nine authors of a study that was published in 2018, if I am not mistaken, which was entitled Sexual Attackers with an Unknown Victim.

MPR: Yes, correct.

TSR: And the data, however, were from 2009 to 2013 with a special interest or special focus on 2010 for the part that concerns us?

MPR: Yes, that's right, the study had two samples: a larger sample that collected all those sexual crimes that had been committed between 2009 and 2013, at the level of statements made to the police. And then from that sample, we took a subsample of crimes that had been committed in 2010, but only in those cases in which the victim did not previously know her attacker or attackers.

TSR: And what data did you specifically request in 2010, about 2010?

MPR: Well, we asked for all those police statements that had been taken for some kind of sexual crime, no, whether they were sexual assaults or abuse, which, in which the relationship between the victim and attacker was unknown, that is, there had not been, there was no previous knowledge between victim and aggressor, they did not know each other.

TSR: And you asked for that data throughout Spain?

MPR: Yes. We asked for that data from both the Civil Guard and the National Police. We excluded the part of, well, no, no data arrived from the Mossos de Esquadra [in Catalonia], but we did have Civil Guard and National Police [data] from the rest of the country.

TSR: So we are talking about police statements from all over Spain, the National Police and the Civil Guard?

MPR: Yes, right, we got police statements from both forces.

TSR: How many did you ask for?

MPR: We asked for more than 600 but we had to discard some because when we read the statements, we saw that the lack of a relationship was not total, because maybe they were not relatives, but they had been prior acquaintances so we were left at the end with a sample of about 400 police statements.

TSR: So of those 600 that you received from Civil Guard and National Police stations, you screened them to discard those who really, in which the victim really did know her attacker in some way?

MPR: In which she didn't.

TSR: In which she didn't.

MPR: Right, we were left with only those who really did not previously know their attackers and could not identify them in any way. For example, if the attacker was the neighbour on the sixth floor, then perhaps she did not know what his name was exactly, but she did know that he was her neighbour on the sixth floor. For us, those were known attackers, not unknown ones, so we screened to really stick with those cases that were totally unknown.

TSR: And we are talking about police statements in any case, not trials or convictions?

MPR: No, no, in no case do we get to trials or convictions. We analysed it at the level of police investigation because what we were interested in was to try to analyse these types of cases in order to improve police effectiveness in the most difficult cases to investigate, than only when the victim previously knew her attacker.

TSR: So we are talking about 400 police statements from the Civil Guard and the National Police from all over Spain in 2010, with no trials or convictions?

MPR: Exactly.

TSR: In that sample, specifically on that page, because you are the author of the controversial page in question, which has now been used in political debate, page 36 of 53 in the document, what did you discover in your information, in your data?

MPR: Well, we discovered many things. The report is very extensive, no, obviously we channel the classification of the sexual attacker, to an unknown victim. And within those classifications there were many types, obviously, because there were sexual assaults, that were just one attack, we also had serial sex offenders, which is also a category, a complicated classification, especially in terms of the police investigation. And we also had some cases where sexual assault had been committed by several attackers. We had different types, with different characteristics, and then, within all those results, we also proposed a model to somehow try to improve the effectiveness of that police investigation. But well, of course, obviously all of that was a very extensive report.

TSR: And when you talk about group sexual assaults, with more than one attacker, how many people are we talking about?

MPR: We consider at a scientific level that the attacks that happen in a group are when there is more than one attacker, that is, two or more people would already be a group attack, a group assault.

TSR: And in the statements…

MPR: More than one.

TSR: Yes, and in the statements you analysed, the 400 statements you analysed with an unknown victim, in which the victim did not know her attacker, how many were group attacks?

MPR: Less than 20%, less than 20% of all those cases had been committed by two or more people.

TSR: Less than 20%, fewer than 80 cases?

MPR: Yes.

TSR: And of those 80 cases, or fewer than 80 cases, what did you discover?

MPR: Well, within that classification of group sexual assaults, when the victim is not known to the attacker, what we saw is that generally the attackers were younger, compared to, for example, the category of only a single assault or even [xxxx], which were younger and that, in general, the attacks occurred with greater severity, obviously, because there were more attackers, and with more violence, and that also there was a significant percentage of people who came from other countries.

TSR: Were there more people from other countries who committed group attacks than Spaniards?

MPR: Yes, yes, there was the higher percentage of people who came from other countries in this subcategory.

TSR: In this subcategory, of this particular study, talking about 2010?

MPR: Correct.

TSR: And at the level of acquaintances and strangers, of attackers known to the victim and attackers unknown to the victim, was there also a relationship there, you were saying, between Spaniards and foreigners?

MPR: Well, when we talk about a general phenomenon, that is, if we take into account the phenomena of sexual crimes, sexual crimes, to a greater extent, the highest percentage are committed by [Spanish] nationals. Within that, we already divide that global phenomenon between acquaintances and strangers, okay, what the data says, on a scientific level, is that generally among attackers know to the victim, there is usually more presence of nationals than foreigners. However, it is true that these proportions may vary in the case of strangers, especially in the phenomenon we were talking about, the group sexual assaults, today there may be more people who come from other countries because of the characteristics of the crime, but in general, this is not extrapolated or generalised to the rest of the data, no, to the other sexual assaults and abuses and, always remembering 80% are known to the victim. That is, most people who sexually assault another person know their victim. And in that majority, we have mostly [Spanish] nationals.

TSR: So in this sample you analysed from 2010, there were no known attackers?

MPR: Right, we only focused on 20% of the phenomenon when there is no previous relationship between the victim and attacker, when they are unknown, which is a minority, only two out of every ten cases. We couldn't, it wasn't our aim to analyse the 80% with known attackers, because what we were specifically interested in was to improve the rate of police effectiveness when the victim does not know her attacker, which is where the Police and the Civil Guard really have more difficulty stopping the attacker.

TSR: You do say, however, that with the nationality aspect there are more Spaniards in the group of known attackers and more foreigners, as a percentage, in the unknown group, which is what you analysed?

MPR: Let's see, there is no study in Spain that we have data about, we do not have a sample of known attackers, but in global terms, if in all sexual crimes, the percentage of Spaniards is higher, we also know this because of convictions too, that is, I mean that in convictions, we see that the majority of people convicted of sexual crimes are Spanish. If we extrapolate this to known and unknown attackers, we can expect more nationals in the known group than in this subgroup where we have found specifically foreigners who have committed group attacks.

TSR: And what you studied, given it was all victims and attackers who did not know each other, was the subsample of group attacks in which the victims and attackers also did not know each other?

MPR: Of course, there are also group attackers that happen among known attackers, I mean in the group of known attackers, as well as the group of unknown attackers, we will have people who knew each other previously, where the attacker has attacked the victim once. We also have group attacks there, of course. There are also going to be group sexual assaults in which some victims know their attackers. In fact, recently in the media, we have seen several cases. Group attacks are a phenomenon which occurs both among acquaintances and among strangers. We only analysed the unknown part. Just the group attacks that happen among strangers. We do not know, let's say, what happens at the level of group attacks that happen between acquaintances, when the victim knows her attackers.

TSR: So your sample of 400 police statements from all over Spain in 2010 does not look at all group attacks that year?

MPR: Of course not. We only analysed the 20% of the crimes that had been committed among strangers and only the group of strangers. We did not analyse the group with acquaintances. With the group phenomenon, there are both attackers who assault victims they do not previously know and attackers who assault victims they do previously know. We did not analyse the phenomenon of group aggression, we analysed the phenomenon of aggression against victims who did not previously know their attackers and there were some in groups, but obviously that is not all group attacks that took place.

TSR: So, the specific data point itself, the 69% of group attacks with an unknown victim in 400 police statements in 2010 were carried out by foreigners, is true, as a specific data in your study?

MPR: Sure. In that subcategory, within strangers who attack, one, that is, two or more attack a victim, we found that 69% came from other countries. But, of course, that very small percentage within, obviously, sexual crimes in general, and also, within sexual assaults, because sexual assaults are committed mostly, like general sexual crimes, 80% are committed by people known to the victim, and group sexual assaults can also be committed among people who know each other. We cannot extrapolate this data to group sexual assaults because we would have to analyse the majority of the cases committed in groups, with victims and attackers who know each other.

TSR: Right, so not even at the scientific level, shall we say, not at the political level but at the scientific accounting level, shall we say, because not all group attacks are in the sample you analysed, can we come to any conclusion about nationality with regards to all group attacks in 2010?

MPR: In no case can you extrapolate that data for group attacks because we don't know if they are two different phenomena. In fact, we understand that the phenomenon of attacking someone you know, sexually assaulting a known victim, and sexually assaulting an unknown victim are two different phenomena. So, we understood that there were differences [xxxxxx] against acquaintances than against previously unknown victims. In no case would it be appropriate to extrapolate that percentage to all group attacks. We would have to analyse the case of the victims, of the group attacks that take place against a known victim, when the victim is able to say who the perpetrators of the attack are. Like many cases, I repeat, that we have seen recently in the press. In this case, we could not extrapolate it and it would not be appropriate to generalise that percentage.

TSR: And can that data from 400 police statements, with unrelated victims and attackers from 2010, be extrapolated to 2015 or 2019?

MPR: From 2010 to 2019, many social issues have arisen in Spain and much progress has been made. In fact, the Home Office data shows there has been a small rebound in complaints about sexual crimes in general, of sexual assaults with penetration, probably because recently, because society—and that is just my personal opinion—is perhaps much more sensitive to such cases, and the victims may be more encouraged to report it more. Remember this phenomenon of sexual crimes is a phenomenon that has many hidden figures, many victims do no feel able to report what has happened. In fact, at the level of victimisation courses, at the European level and at the international level, it is estimated that only one in five crimes is reported. So it is likely that what we are seeing now is that there are more complaints, in several cases. So we do not know from 2010 to 2019, after nine years, if that phenomenon, at the level of police statements collected, may have varied. Then, there may be more complaints, and the percentages may change because the victims are encouraged to report it more, and maybe that phenomenon itself, at the level of police reports, has varied. So, I think that after nine years, maybe those percentages would not have to, it would not be appropriate to say that they might be the same. Obviously, there will be a trend that might be maintained, but for sure there have been changes and we would have to re-analyse the data to see if these classifications are still there in 2019, and those proportions, to see if they are still there.

TSR: And did repeated, have you repeated, that same study from 2010 in later years?

MPR: No, it could not be repeated.

TSR: Do you know if other researchers have repeated the study or done a similar study?

MPR: As far as I know, as far as I know, but may be, but as far as I know, no, I have no knowledge that this study has been repeated.

TSR: So, right now in the electoral campaign, especially and in general with a certain political discourse, the study that you did, that was published in 2018 regarding the 2010 data, and the page that you yourself wrote on these group attacks, what do you think about the political use that is being made of the specific scientific data you studied?

MPR: Well, in general, I believe society deserves to know about the information that science obtains, the empirical investigation of many phenomena and in particular, of criminal phenomena, obviously, about sexual delinquency because greater knowledge about the phenomena implies an improvement in catching criminals, and in attending to the victims. Then, obviously, it is necessary to offer truthful information, that the information that is offered is properly contextualised, and that the scope and limitations of the information that is offered are properly explained because, obviously, the data cannot be taken out of context. The moment they are taken out of context, they lose that veracity. To always try to transmit to society research data and so that anyone who uses that data can sees them in the context that they were actually obtained from.

TSR: Would you say then that Vox is decontextualising your data?

MPR: Well, to the extent that the percentages are taken out of context and only part of the information given from the studies is seen, it will always going to be decontextualised. Obviously, any data can be offered in one way or another. It must be transmitted, how it was obtained and what that data means, because if not obviously the information that is actually being transmitted from this report is not being transmitted in a truthful manner.

TSR: Very good. Is there any other comment you would like to make about the study data, or the political use or interpretation that is being made of them?

MPR: Well, I believe that if in this country research were valued and studies obtained funding and follow-up studies were done, year by year, well, we probably would not have these problems. If there were more studies, there would be more research that was dedicated to following these phenomena, because probably, because anyone could refute with other data, any type of data that might be decontextualised. But the problem is that there is no political interest in really making a serious, rigorous study of many criminal phenomena, including sexual crimes.

TSR: Well, thank you very much, Meritxell Pérez Ramírez, for your time and your knowledge.

MPR: Thank you very much.

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