As we’ve written before, sexual harassment is all about the abuse of power. Supervisors use their power to sexually proposition and even assault women who report to them. Heads of corporations and high-level supervisors think that, because of their power, they can abuse or humiliate female employees who work for their company. Unfortunately, those in positions of power often get away with sexual harassment and even sexual assault because the women who are their victims fear retaliation (or that nothing will be done) if the higher-ups’ conduct is reported.
But recently, one such man in power, Luis Rubiales, the (former) head of the Spanish Soccer Federation, was brought down from his lofty position after he grabbed Jenni Hermoso, one of the star players on Luis’ Spanish women’s soccer team, and forcibly kissed her on the mouth.
It was immediately following the August 20, 2023, thrilling victory of Spain’s women’s team in the World Cup that Rubiales planted his unwanted kiss on Hermoso—doing so in front of the entire stadium and tens of millions of broadcast viewers—as the players walked across the stage to accept their medals.
Rubiales tried to claim the kiss was “consensual,”—citing the fact that Hermoso did not immediately push him away or demonstrate any visible reaction to the kiss. Experts dealing with sexual harassment and sexual assault have found that survivors of sexual assault will often report that, instead of physically fighting back, they “freeze” during the attack—a response triggered by the shock and trauma of the assault.
Condemnation of Rubiales’s manhandling of Hermoso was swift, strong, and widespread. The players on the women’s team announced that they would refuse to play for Spain unless Rubiales stepped down. All of the coaches on the team—other than the head coach, who was soon to be fired from his job— resigned. Then, after Spanish prosecutors initiated a criminal investigation into Rubiales’ conduct, and following the Soccer Federation’s demand for his resignation, Rubiales gave up and, on September 10, 2023, stepped down from his position.
The fact that Rubiales was forced from his position is a testament to the growing strength of women on national soccer teams, not just in Spain but around the world, as demonstrated by the U.S. women’s team’s successful fight for pay equal to that given to the U.S. men’s team. [See our June 6, 2022 blog on this issue.] Rubiales’s resignation also stands out as a strong warning to other men in positions of power that, when they abuse that power to harass or assault women, serious consequences may result.