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Sexual assault at the running of the bulls rises, and Spanish women won't take it anymore

Runningbulls News 7 17 18
Sexual assaults reported during the festival have risen sharply in the last 10 years, with 22 cases reported in 2017. (Asier Solana Bermejo)

On July 6, the first day of the running of the bulls festival in Pamplona, Spain, hundreds of people across the country defied tradition by dressing in black instead of the customary white. It was a protest—but not against the alleged animal rights abuses that occur during the event, in which cattle are chased down narrow, cobblestoned streets toward a bullring, where they then battle to the death with matadors. Instead, the “mourners” were voicing their opposition to the sexualized violence that often takes place during the festival, as well as the seemingly lenient sentences revelers receive after committing assaults.    

This summer, the question of sexualized violence at the running of the bulls has been front and center. In June, a court granted bail to five men after convicting them of abusing an 18-year-old woman during the 2016 event. The Associated Press writes that sexual assaults reported during the festival have risen sharply since 2008, which saw two cases. There were 20 sexual attacks on women in 2016, AP reported, including an incident in which five men cornered an 18-year old, filmed themselves sexually attacking her, and left after stealing her phone. A study by the Public University of Navarre found that the number of attacks rose to 22 in 2017, amid growing public outrage.  

On Friday, hundreds of Spaniards protested across the country, indicating a growing spirit of resistance against the assaults that occur at the festival—and illustrating that women are by no means united in how to oppose the violence. While many feminist groups located outside of the Navarre region, where Pamplona is situated, called on women to dress in all black, feminist collectives local to the city voiced their opposition to the campaign.  

Women from the rest of the country, said Navarre feminist groups, were hindering efforts they had already implemented on the ground—such as the organization of protests—to address the culture of sexualized violence at the festival. “These are our parties, we make the rules and we have to claim our place at them, taking the squares, laughing, dancing, planning, taking to the streets and the stages, and overall having fun and enjoying the party as we want,” one group told Spanish outlet El Español. “We are pioneers at advancing protocols against sexual aggression and we don’t understand the initiatives that emerge without consultation,” said another women’s group in an interview with Spanish newspaper El País.  

Even as they remained divided on how to engage with the running of bulls, activists across Spain were united in calling for the issue of sexualized violence at the festival to be taken more seriously. The five men released on bail earlier this summer, referred to publicly as “the Wolf Pack” (La Manada), have been sentenced to nine years in jail and will remain free until their  appeals are dismissed.  

In April, the Navarre Regional Court found the five men in the 2016 attack, referred to publicly as “the Wolf Pack” (La Manada), guilty of “sexual abuse” but acquitted them on the more serious charge of rape. Videos taken of the incident showed the victim “stunned and unable to react,” the judges determined. They concluded that the perpetrators had not used violence or intimidation, and thus could not be convicted of rape as defined under Spanish law.  

Public outrage at the court’s decision continued into the opening of this year’s festival. In a letter sent to a Spanish TV station in late June, the survivor expressed her gratitude for the national response. “I wanted to give thanks to all of the people who, without knowing me, took to the streets of Spain and gave me a voice when many were trying to take it away from me,” she wrote. “Thank you for not leaving me alone, for believing me, sisters. Thanks for everything,”



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