Editor’s Note: This story contains details of sexual harassment that may be sensitive to some. If you or someone needs support, contact VictimLinkBC at 1-800-563-0808 or Crisis Centre of BC at 1-800-784-2433.
Spanish football player Jenni Hermoso has lodged allegations of sexual misconduct against Luis Rubiales, a Spanish football official, accusing him of forcibly kissing her on the lips without her consent following the Women’s World Cup final, according to the country’s prosecutor’s office.
Rubiales, who has been suspended from his role as president of the Spanish soccer federation, claims the kiss was consensual, a stance Hermoso and her players’ union vehemently dispute. Hermoso further revealed she and her family were pressured by the federation to publicly support Rubiales immediately after the incident, which marred her team’s victory.
Under a new sexual consent law passed last year, Rubiales could potentially face penalties, including fines or a prison sentence of one to four years if found guilty. The law abolishes the distinction between “sexual harassment” and “sexual assault,” treating all non-consensual sexual acts as offenses.
Spain’s government, players’ unions, players, and many citizens have expressed support for Hermoso, while Rubiales has faced isolation within the soccer community, despite his refusal to step down.
Hermoso’s accusation represents a significant challenge to Rubiales as it could lead to a criminal case. The prosecutor’s office confirmed Hermoso made her accusation on Tuesday, following their earlier announcement that they would meet with her to receive her complaint against Rubiales. Interim federation president Pedro Rocha is seen as an ally of Rubiales.
In his Aug. 26 speech before the federation assembly, Rubiales claimed the kiss was “mutual” and akin to an affectionate gesture he might share with one of his daughters, Hermoso vehemently denied this.
“I feel the need to denounce this act as I believe no person in their work, sporting or social environment should be the victim of this kind of nonconsensual behaviour. I felt vulnerable and the victim of aggression, an impulsive, sexist act which was out of place and with no consent on my behalf,” Hermoso wrote in a statement posted on social media.
Jenni Hermoso is a 33-year-old forward and currently plays for the Mexican club Pachuca after a successful career with top Spanish and European clubs, including Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain, and Atletico Madrid.
Rubiales’ conduct during the final, which included an inappropriate gesture alongside dignitaries such as Spain’s queen and teenage princess, as well as his contentious speech, has deeply divided Spanish soccer.
Recently, Spain’s Women’s World Cup champion team dismissed their coach, Jorge Vilda, despite his success, citing his unpopularity among players and close association with Rubiales. Last year, 15 players expressed refusal to play under Vilda until a more professional work environment was established.
In response to Rubiales’ refusal to step down and his accusations against Hermoso, the entire team of World Cup winners, along with numerous other players, declared their intention to refuse playing for Spain until the president resigned.
As of now, there is no indication that the women players are willing to return to the team, even following Vilda’s removal. Spain’s left-wing government and its female players hope that the backlash against Rubiales can initiate a larger reckoning with sexism in the world of soccer.
Instances of sexual harassment in women’s soccer have unfortunately occurred, shedding light on the need to address and prevent such misconduct in the sport. In 2019, a former FIFA referee accused a high-ranking FIFA official of sexually harassing her during her career. The case raised concerns about the prevalence of harassment within international soccer organizations.
What is it about men that cannot keep their hands to themselves, especially when it comes to powerful women?
You have the right to be treated with dignity and respect, and you should not tolerate any form of sexual harassment. Seeking help and taking action is essential to address the issue and prevent further incidents. Your decision on how to proceed should be based on your individual circumstances and what feels most comfortable and empowering for you.