On Wednesday afternoon, Leslie Stovall — the attorney representing Kathryn Mayorga, the woman suing soccer superstar Cristiano Ronaldo for allegedly raping her in 2009 — stood in front of a room full of reporters in Las Vegas and tried to explain why his client was coming forward now, nine years after the alleged assault occurred.
“The #MeToo movement was very important to Kathryn,” Stovall said. “I think she looks at the women who are involved in the #MeToo movement as heroes.”
Mayorga says that Ronaldo raped her nine years ago, after they met at a Las Vegas night club. She settled with him months later for $375,000 and a promise to stay silent, but now is fighting to have that settlement voided. Der Spiegel first reported on this non-disclosure agreement in 2017, though at the time, they did so without unveiling Mayorga’s name and without her cooperation.
Now, she’s talking. Nine years ago, she believed that staying silent was the best option, that she wouldn’t be able to win a public fight against someone as internationally famous as Ronaldo, that justice would be impossible to come by.
Now, as hard as it is, Mayorga is speaking up because she believes that the world is ready to listen to survivors now, and to take them seriously.
There are small signs that she is right. The Las Vegas Police Department has re-opened its criminal investigation into her report. Nike and EA Sports, two of Ronaldo’s biggest sponsors, say they are “deeply concerned” about the allegations and are “monitoring” the case. Ronaldo won’t be with the Portugese National Team in its friendlies next month, though there’s no definitive proof that decision was based on the allegations.
Still, there are just as many signs that many people are far from ready to listen, much less sympathize. Juventus FC, Ronaldo’s Italian club team, released a statement on Thursday praising his “professionalism and dedication,” and saying that “the events dating back to almost 10 years ago do not change this opinion.”
In other words, they’re not denying he might have done this. They simply don’t care if he did.
.@Cristiano Ronaldo has shown in recent months his great professionalism and dedication, which is appreciated by everyone at Juventus. 1/1
— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) October 4, 2018
The events allegedly dating back to almost 10 years ago do not change this opinion, which is shared by anyone who has come into contact with this great champion. 2/2
— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) October 4, 2018
There has undoubtedly been progress over the past year, but the case of Ronaldo is a massive test of the limits of the #MeToo movement.
How does society reckon with the fact that the third-highest paid athlete in the world might be a rapist, if at all? Are sponsors ready to take action beyond vague expressions of general concern? Are clubs willing to stop signing him? Are fans ready to stop cheering for him?
The answer to the latter three questions should undoubtedly be, “yes.” So far, all are no’s.
I’ve covered many allegations of sexual violence against high-profile athletes over the years, and the amount of evidence against Ronaldo is absolutely staggering already. Calling this another instance of “he-said, she-said” or, as Ronaldo put it, “fake news,” would be drastic misrepresentation. Virtually all of the well-worn excuses that apologists typically use to attack the credibility of sexual assault survivors are not at all applicable here.
For a start, there’s absolutely no question of timing. We know that on June 12, 2009, a then 25-year-old Mayorga met Ronaldo in a Las Vegas nightclub. He was a superstar at 24 years old, about to transfer from Manchester United to Real Madrid for a record 94 million euros. Paparazzi photos clearly show the two together.
Her description of the subsequent assault is horrific. According to her recent interview with Der Spiegel, she gave him her number when they met in a VIP section, and then he invited her and her friends to a party in the hotel next door. When she arrived, everyone was in the hot tub, but she didn’t want to go in because she didn’t have a bathing suit. Ronaldo offered her some clothes she could get wet, but as she was changing, he walked in with his penis hanging out of his shorts and “basically … begged [Mayorga] to touch his penis for 30 seconds.” When she denied, he begged her to suck it.
She says he told her, “I’ll let you go if you give me a kiss.” So she did. But when she tried to leave after that, he wouldn’t stop grabbing her. He ended up raping her anally, without a condom or lubricant.
“After he assaulted me, he wouldn’t let me leave again,” she told Der Spiegel. “He wouldn’t let me leave. And he was calling me ‘baby, baby.’ He gave me this look, this guilty look. Almost like he felt bad I don’t remember but I’m pretty sure he said ‘sorry’ or ‘Are you hurt?'”
This is Mayorga’s version of events. The “she said” part of the equation. But where the “he said” usually goes, instead lies a convoluted rat’s nest of denial and admission.
Now, of course, he denies the allegations. However, her account doesn’t differ that much from what Ronaldo admitted to in a document obtained by Der Spiegel. It is an early version of a questionnaire that was sent to Ronaldo by Mayorga’s lawyers when they first contacted him about the allegations in the summer of 2009. In a later version of a similar questionnaire, Ronaldo said the sex between them was consensual, and that Mayorga never seemed upset during their encounter.
But in the earlier version, which was e-mailed between Ronaldo’s lawyers in September 2009, Ronaldo says that Mayorga “said ‘no’ and ‘stop’ several times.”
“I entered her from behind. It was rude. We didn’t change position. 5/7 minutes. She said that she didn’t want to, but she made herself available,” he wrote. “But she kept saying ‘No.’ ‘Don’t do it.’ ‘I’m not like the others.’ I apologized afterwards.”
Ronaldo says in the document that Mayorga didn’t say anything to him about wanting to go to the police. However, he adds, “She complained that I forced her.” He essentially agreed with her story: He raped her anally, and afterwards, apologized.
This week, Ronaldo professed his innocence, and referred to Mayorga as someone “seeking to promote themselves at my expense.”
I firmly deny the accusations being issued against me. Rape is an abominable crime that goes against everything that I am and believe in. Keen as I may be to clear my name, I refuse to feed the media spectacle created by people seeking to promote themselves at my expense.
— Cristiano Ronaldo (@Cristiano) October 3, 2018
But, unlike so many rape cases, this story isn’t based solely on the words of the accuser versus the words of the accused. Because Mayorga told a friend about the rape that very night, and was in so much pain that she called the police the next day to report it. They took her to the hospital, where she was given a rape kit and a drug test, which came back negative.
The police officer who spoke with Mayorga noted that she was extremely upset and did not want to provide the name of her attacker — though she did say that he was a “public figure” and an “athlete.”
At the hospital, her injuries — a circumferential swelling with bruising and a laceration — were photographed, and she was given two antibiotics and released.
Women are often questioned, when they come forward, about why they didn’t tell anyone at the time of the attack; why they didn’t go to the police; why they didn’t go to the hospital for a rape kit. It’s usually understandable why a woman wouldn’t want to do any of these things — they’re extremely, extremely agonizing steps to endure, especially when they so rarely lead to justice. But Mayorga went through all of them anyways.
Now, years later, despite the evidence and an admission, she still isn’t being believed, at least not fully, or by the people who matter most.
The #MeToo movement has been a powerful force to bring survivors out of the shadows and into the light. It’s taken down actors, directors, comedians, newscasters, and even some politicians. We’re seeing its limits in the Supreme Court right now, but Mayorga has the pieces of evidence in her case that Republican Senators argue Dr. Blasey Ford is lacking. Is that going to be enough to get justice, or even to force people to re-think their love and financial support of Ronaldo?
Or, will people simply go out of their way to discredit a survivor when the alternative — believing that someone they root for, or work with, or idolize, or partner with politically, is capable of committing sexual assault — is simply too inconvenient?
Only time will tell whether what happened on June 12, 2009, will have any concrete impact on Ronaldo’s present-day life or lasting legacy. We know that no matter what, Mayorga is going to be living with its effects forever.
“It’s never left her. Every day, she lives it,” Mayorga’s mother, Cheryl Mayorga, told Der Spiegel.
“There were times when she would call me and his — he would be on a billboard or whatever, and she would just completely disintegrate. Having to walk into a store to get a pint of milk, and you’ve got his picture everywhere. (…) He’s the soccer god that everybody thinks is just perfect and flawless. (…) And she can’t even get out of bed some days.”