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#MeToo: Dozens come forward with stories of sexual assault by Spanish tour guide

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#MeToo: Dozens come forward with stories of sexual assault by Spanish tour guide
Gabrielle Vega has been contacted by dozens of girls with similar stories about her attacker. Photo: Gabrielle Vega
15:45 CEST+02:00
When Gabrielle Vega took the brave step to go public about being drugged and raped by a Spanish tour guide while she was on a gap year in Salamanca, the last thing she expected was to discover that dozens of other women had also suffered the same thing.

But within days of going public with the allegations, more than 50 women have come forward to share similar experiences with the same tour guide.

Now, police in Seville are investigating Manuel Blanco Vega of Discovery Excursions for sexual assault crimes.

In November 2013, when she was 18-years-old and on a studying abroad scheme in Salamanca, Vega and two friends booked a trip to Tangiers, Morocco with the Seville-based Discovery Excursions, a company that organised trips designed for study-abroad students.

READ MORE: #Cuéntalo: Spanish women launch their own #Metoo movement

Vega claims that on the last night of the trip something happened that changed her life forever. 

After a few days taking in the sights of Tangiers, she and her two friends ended up in their hotel with the charismatic tour guide, who, insisting that it wasn't safe for girls to be out on their own after dark in the city, suggested they all go up their room and he would order champagne from room service.

“We'd been with him a few days, he seemed fun, charming and we trusted him,” she explained to The Local over the telephone from her home in Florida.


Gabrielle, posing with a camel, during the trip to Morocco in November, 2013. Photo: Gabrielle Vega

“When the champagne arrived, he kept his back to us and poured it into glasses. I'm sure he drugged that glass because within a short while, I felt very unwell, woozy and could barely stand up,” she said insisting that the feeling was not consistent with having only drunk two small beers and a glass of champagne.

She believes that when she visited the bathroom a short while later, the tour guide followed her in and raped her. When she awoke the next morning she was knew she had been violated and was haunted by flashbacks of the attack.

Her two friends later confirmed that she had been in the bathroom with him for around 30 minutes.

Vega didn't report the assault to police, either in Morocco or when she returned to Spain. She felt so ashamed about what happened that she told nobody.

She finally shared what happened to her with her family after two painful years during which she dropped out of college and sought therapy where she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I never felt motivated to share my story with anyone outside my family,” she told The Local.  “But then a good friend of mine was working on an arts project and she wanted people to talk about an experience that shaped their life.

“I recorded voice audio that talked about how I was on a study abroad programme and went to Morocco where I was raped by a tour guide. I didn't name the company or the man, just what happened to me and how it changed my life.

By extraordinary coincidence, the artist revealed that she had a friend who had suffered a similar experience on a tour in Spain.

“I hadn't said the name of the tour company or identified the man that raped me, but she sent me a picture of Manuel Blanco and said: Was this him?”


Manuel Blanco Vela, photographed during a trip to Morocco, has been accused of rape and sexual assault. 

For Vega it was a wake-up call. “I suddenly felt a huge sense of guilt that I had kept quiet and that this had been happening to others. So I decided I had to put it out there and just tell as many people as possible.”

She published a post on Facebook warning year-abroad students in Spain of the dangers of booking with Discovery Excursions and its tour director.

“Within a couple of days, eight other women came forward with similar stories about Manuel,” she said.

Vega decided to make a formal complaint and made a police statement at the Spanish consulate in Miami.

She then went on Megyn Kelly's Today show on NBC on April 11th to share her story.

“That appearance reached out to so many women and we now have more than 50 women who have contacted us with versions of the same story. Stories about what happened to them at the hands of Manuel on a Discovery Excursion,” lawyer Mark Eiglarsh, who has taken on Vega's case, told The Local.

“Some were serious sexual assault, others talked about being drugged, some were attempted rape,” he said, adding that he was collecting witness statements to pass on to Spanish police.

The Local has seen a dozen of these witness statements from women who claim to be victims of Blanco, a man in his late 30s. All follow a similar pattern. Some date back to 2011. Others are as recent as this year.

Two women, Hayley McAleese and Carly Van Ostenbridge, both Florida State University students on a study abroad scheme in Valencia, claim they were assaulted by Blanco on a trip to Lagos, Portugal last May.

The pair said that they were cornered by him in a hotel room and they had to fight off his sexual advances before escaping and running for help from male friends down the corridor.

Both made police reports about the assault when they returned to Spain but were told prosecution would be difficult because “we were American students accusing a Spaniard and the incident happened in Portugal,” according to statements they made to their lawyer.

“The first part of sharing Gabrielle's story is that we want everyone to know what happened and give a platform and voice to those who have suffered the same from him,” said Eiglarsh.

“But secondly we want to identify him and pursue him and make sure that he is stopped from doing this sort of thing again.”

Since the allegations have emerged Discovery Excursions have shut down their social media accounts and their website has been deleted.

The company are not answering telephone calls and have not made a statement on the allegations.

Policia Nacional in Seville confirm that they investigating allegations against an "M. B. V." of Discovery Excursions.

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