Carlota Prado shakes her head slowly in disbelief, her hands clasped tightly to her tear-stained face but leaving space for her haunted eyes to continue watching.
The young contestant has been called to the diary room of Spain’s Big Brother studio house by “The Voice”, known in the Spanish version of the reality show as the “Super”.
She can have had no idea she was to be shown images in which she is subjected to an alleged sexual abuse that is now the subject of a criminal investigation.
“Please, Super, stop now, please,” Ms Prado begs, as the diary room screen replays what happened the night before in her bed.
The scene was recorded two years ago by Zeppelin, the production company that makes Big Brother in Spain, but it never went out on the show Gran Hermano Revolution.
In another clip of the video, obtained by digital newspaper El Confidencial, Ms Prado retches twice before sobbing heavily. She asks for some medication to help her to relax: “My heart is beating like crazy.”
It was Saturday 4 November 2017. The night before, the Big Brother contestants had enjoyed a party with plentiful alcohol on offer.
A clearly inebriated Ms Prado was helped to bed by José María López, with whom she had been having a relationship.
When Mr López moved to initiate intimate contact, she replied “No, I can’t” and then collapsed in her bed. Mr López is accused of penetrating her as she slept in an alleged assault that lasted five minutes.
He has denied sexually abusing Ms Prado. In Spain, sexual abuse is applied in cases where a man has non-consensual sex with a woman but does not use violence or intimidation.
The next day, the couple had breakfast together and Mr López told Ms Prado he had “taken care of her” after she overdid the booze.
Then, after midday, events took a turn and word came through that Mr López had been expelled from the house for “intolerable behaviour”.
Still none the wiser, Ms Prado was called to the diary room to witness the alleged sexual assault.
This was no longer the laid-back fun of reality TV. The situation uncomfortably resembles a plotline from the dystopic series Black Mirror.
Trapped in the Big Brother diary room
This is what was said by Carlota and The Voice after she was shown images of what had taken place, according to the video published by El Confidencial.
Carlota: “Are people going to see this?” The Voice promises the images will not be shown or shared in any way. “Where is he?”
Voice: José María has been expelled definitively, Carlota.
Carlota: So, I cannot even have a conversation with him, right?
Voice: No. Carlota, we want you to know that the organisation doesn’t condone this kind of behaviour.
Carlota: Nor do I condone it – how could I? What feels unfair is that I can’t talk to him because he didn’t say anything to me. Well, you know that he didn’t tell me; you know it all too well.
Voice: We want you to know that you have our complete support, psychological and in terms of family.
Carlota: I don’t want to talk to a psychologist; I want to talk to my friends out there [in the Big Brother house]. And I need you assure me that this will not be broadcast because obviously I’m going to talk about all of this.
The Voice refuses her request to see her housemates.
Voice: Carlota, for you and José María, this matter shouldn’t leave this room.
Carlota pleads to be let out of the diary room, but the door only opens when an executive producer and a psychologist enter to take Carlota off the set and to a nearby hotel.
So, in a house full of cameras and where the contestants are under constant observation, why did no one appear to see the alleged abuse take place at the time?
Or, if they did, why was no action taken? And why was the decision taken to confront the unsuspecting victim, alone in the diary room, with images from the alleged assault?
Sources from Zeppelin have admitted to the BBC that mistakes were made, indicating that although there were suspicions about Mr López’s behaviour, there was also doubt over what was happening because they were a couple.
After several minutes, the sources explained, a safe word was spoken over the speaker so that Mr López stopped what he was doing.
The night team’s report on what happened was considered by executive producers the next morning, when the decision was taken to expel Mr López.
Zeppelin producers stress that Ms Prado was given psychological support and taken to a hotel so she could process what she had been shown in a protected environment.
Representatives of the company reported the alleged assault at a police station, but Ms Prado opted not to ratify the complaint at the time, and returned to the Big Brother house five days later.
In a statement on Wednesday, Zeppelin said it would be reinforcing its teams’ ability to deal with “any situations in which rights are abused”. It also announced a ban on alcohol from future Big Brother productions.
Gran Hermano Revolution
José María spent the night looking after Carlota when he realised she was drunk
Endemol Shine Group, the company behind the Big Brother format, said in a statement to the BBC that the protocols in place for such eventualities were followed after “the production team on duty overnight became suspicious of an incident and escalated it to the show’s executive producers”.
Of the filming of the alleged assault, Endemol says the images were not considered for use as entertainment, adding that the tapes were encrypted and handed over to the police after Ms Prado decided to report the incident in 2018.
“We’d like to stress no footage was ever shot with the intention of being broadcast. However, with hindsight we regret that the conversation where Carlota was informed took place in the diary room environment,” the company said.
The revelations concerning the treatment of Ms Prado have led to several companies pulling out of advertising deals with Big Brother in Spain in the past week.
“The producers should be investigated for a failure in their duty to rescue the victim, which is a criminal offence,” says Beatriz Gimeno, a regional Madrid MP for the left-wing Podemos party.
Ms Gimeno suspects that the producers failed to put the victim before the requirements of entertainment when they forced Ms Prado into watching the alleged assault. “They were thinking of the show itself. Producers seem to think that if something is on TV, it’s not real. But what happened here is very clearly real.”
The politician argues that reality shows are getting away with abusive behaviour taking place on their airtime, seemingly reaping benefits from impunity as audiences are served up a strong brew of abuse, insults and hate speech. “Anything can be said and done on television, it seems, including things that on the street would be a crime.”
For Elena Hermo, a psychologist from Adavas, a non-governmental organisation that helps women victims of sexual and gender violence, the programme is doubly guilty, first of not understanding that Ms Prado was the victim of a possible assault, and then for confronting her with the video without even consulting with her beforehand.
“There is a double victimisation because not only does she become aware… but also the way it is dealt with is public. Regardless of whether it was broadcast, she was filmed as she found out in front of all the workers and the staff that make the show.”
In October the judge investigating the case concluded there was evidence Mr López might have committed the offence of sexual abuse and recommended the case for trial.
José María López denies the offence and his lawyer, Antonio Madrid, has said that there is no evidence of any crime. “José María spent the night looking after Carlota when he realised she was drunk,” the lawyer told El Confidencial.
Ms Prado posted a video on her Instagram account this week thanking people for supporting a social media campaign under the hashtag #CarlotaNoEstasSola – “Carlota, you’re not alone”.
“For the first time, I don’t feel alone,” she declared. “And this converts automatically into love. This converts automatically into generosity for anyone going through a situation similar to mine.”
Find out more about Spain’s struggle over sexual consent:
Help and advice
If you, or someone you know, have been affected by sexual abuse or violence, these organisations in the UK may be able to help.
- 24-hour domestic violence helpline 016
- email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
- 24-hour helpline for mistreated women – (0034) 900 19 10 10