July 4, 2018 / 12:43 PM / 5 months ago

Pamplona assures women its bull-running festival safe after 'Wolf Pack' assault

PAMPLONA, Spain (Reuters) - Pamplona wants to reassure women they will be safe from abuse during the bull-running festival that starts in the Spanish city this week, countering calls to boycott the event in protest at a failed rape prosecution.

A woman walks past an information and helpline booth on sexual violence two days before the annual San Fermin bull-running festival in Pamplona, Spain,July 4, 2018. REUTERS/Susana Vera

Five men, who called themselves “The Wolf Pack”, were cleared in April of raping an 18-year-old woman at the festival in 2016, and convicted of the lesser crime of sexual abuse.

The ruling was met by a wave of protests that was renewed when the men were released on bail last month.

Ahead of Friday’s launch of the alcohol-fueled event, where mostly men volunteer to be chased by bulls down narrow streets, suggestions of a boycott circulated on social media.

“Faced with calls not to come to the festival, I would make a call to women that Pamplona is a city whose institutions and society have said they will not allow assaults,” said councilor Itziar Gomez.

The municipality, started campaigning for festivals free from sexist assaults in 2014, building an infrastructure which now includes helplines in dozens of languages to deal with incidents.

This year it launched an app that lets people tell police at the touch of a button if they suffer or witness a sexual assault, with a signal for officers to locate them.

“We’ve become a city with an extremely high level of awareness,” Gomez said, adding that women were increasingly reporting assaults such as groping.

Rather than boycotting the bull run, some women plan to show their anger by wearing black instead of the traditional white.

“Now more than ever we women have to fill the streets, fill the fiestas and fill the night, because you will have that assurance that there are women in the street with you,” said former city councilor for equality Laura Berro.

The Wolf Pack case has raised awareness about sexual assault throughout Spain where chants of “I believe you, sister” and “Drunk and alone, I want to get home” ringing out across town squares have taken on a similar weight to the #MeToo hashtag that originated in the United States.

Spain’s new prime minister, Pedro Sanchez, appointed a female-dominated cabinet, reinstated a ministry for equality and pledged gender equality training for judges and a review of the legal definition of sex crimes.

Altamira Gonzalo Valganon of Themis, an organization of female legal experts, said: “Judges in this country are generally cut off from social reality, have been educated in a patriarchal system, and have more empathy with men than women.”

In Pamplona, bartender Maitane Hermoso de Mendoza, 26, said she hoped some good would come of the Wolf Pack debacle.

“After this case, people are taking all these things more seriously. It’s sad to say, but it has served to make people more aware of what’s going on.”

Reporting by Isla Binnie; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Robin Pomeroy

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