2018 has been a good year for investigative journalism. An unprecedented renaissance. It’s been evident in Carole Cadwalladr’s reporting for The Guardian on Cambridge Analytica, and in the continuing work of Ronan Farrow, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey for The New York Times and The New Yorker in revealing systemic sexual abuse in the entertainment industry.
Their methods seem old-school compared with how much of the news cycle is reported today. They are dependent on having time to research, patient and sensitive editors, funding for long-term projects, sound legal advice and the backing of a publication in taking aim at high-profile, wealthy and powerful targets.
You do not fell a giant with a week-long social-media deep dive, a dodgy source or a flimsy timeline, not when facing off against a mark with access to deep pockets and global admiration.
Over the weekend, the respected German magazine Der Spiegel published a report on Kathryn Mayorga, or, in their headline, The Woman Who Accuses Ronaldo Of Rape.
As the backlash began online – Ronaldo has 74.9 million Twitter followers and 142 million Instagram followers – the sports editor of Der Spiegel, Christoph Winterbach, posted a lengthy Twitter thread detailing what went into the reporting of the story. He explains how a team of “at least 20 people” had been pursuing the story for over 18 months, had travelled to Las Vegas, spoken to multiple sources, collated hundreds of documents and meticulously fact-checked. He said: “We have a legal department that accompanies us on every step of our research. They make sure that we're not thoughtless when covering people and their stories. Also, our editors in chief are experienced with articles that accuse people with power and money.” The article itself explains that Der Spiegel first reported on the matter back in April 2017 and it is only the effect of the #MeToo movement and a new lawyer that has led to Mayorga now coming forward.
Mayorga’s full account of what happened in a Las Vegas hotel room on 12 June 2009 is harrowing, and worthy of reading in full, but it includes a number of details that many women will find familiar, such as using a lesser act of intimacy in an attempt to bargain your way out of a potentially threatening situation. In this case, Mayorga was alone, changing in a bathroom, when Ronaldo entered with his penis out and persistently begged her to touch it. She claims she agreed to a kiss on the understanding that she would be left alone.
She alleges she was not. Instead, she says that Ronaldo raped her anally without a condom or lubricant.
She called the police, made a report, underwent a hospital examination, a drug test and a rape kit, which included being tested for STIs and photographs of her injuries. Throughout this, she refused to name her attacker. She ultimately decided to pursue an out-of-court settlement, in an attempt to have Ronaldo face up to his actions and pay for her medical treatment, without having to go to court or go public.
Mayorga was forbidden from naming Ronaldo to her therapist or her family from that point onwards, despite the fact that her closest family members knew already
Probably the most important piece of evidence Mayorga and Der Spiegel have is an early version of a questionnaire that was answered by Ronaldo during the discussions. In September 2009, he states that “she said no and stop several times”. He says, “she said that she didn't want to, but she made herself available”, and, "but she kept saying 'No'. 'Don't do it'. 'I'm not like the others'”.
He states: “I apologised afterwards.”
In a later version, Ronaldo responds to the same questions by stating that the sex was consensual and there was no indication that Mayorga wasn’t OK
After negotiations, Mayorga was paid $375,000. At the time, that is how much Ronaldo was paid each week to play for Real Madrid, according to Der Spiegel.
The lawyer initially engaged by Mayorga and her family was “friendly and kind-hearted”, with a small practice that specialised in traffic violations. By the time the out-of-court settlement was hashed out, that lawyer was facing a formidable team of international lawyers who had experience representing high-profile clients in high-stakes lawsuits. They arrived at the settlement negotiations in a limousine. Prior to the NDA, Mayorga was followed and monitored by two different private detectives hired by Ronaldo’s legal team. They were specifically recording her social life, any men she spent time with and how much alcohol she drank.
When powerful men present NDAs to women who threaten them, their goal is silence. As I have written for The Pool, an agreement like this doesn’t just prevent a woman from telling her story in public, but from speaking about her trauma at all. Zelda Perkins, who was the first woman to break her NDA against Harvey Weinstein, was prevented from discussing what had happened with her friends, family, lawyers, doctors, therapists and financial advisors.
In this case, Mayorga was forbidden from naming Ronaldo to her therapist or her family from that point onwards, despite the fact that her closest family members knew already.
Now, Mayorga’s new, and more experienced, lawyer believes that the NDA she signed is void for several reasons. He says she was suffering from PTSD and not in a fit state to negotiate the terms, which was exploited by Ronaldo’s lawyers. He says that her learning disability rendered her incapable of understanding the legal terminology. He also believes that the terms of the NDA were not honoured, thereby nullifying the agreement – a letter from Mayorga that was supposed to be read to Ronaldo by his lawyers was “never received”, according to the player’s own sports agency.
But the main reason Mayorga’s new lawyer thinks her NDA shouldn’t stand is that it was signed in an attempt to cover up a crime, prevent that crime being investigated and prohibit any resulting prosecution. According to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, this may not be actually enforceable; chief executive Rebecca Hilsenrath has previously commented that an NDA “cannot lawfully prevent a person from reporting a crime or making a protected disclosure ie whistleblowing”.
As of September 2018, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department has reopened the case. Meanwhile, Cristiano Ronaldo denies Mayorga’s allegations. He says the sex was consensual and his lawyer says that Der Spiegel’s report is illegal and “one of the most serious violations of personal rights in recent years”.