Thu, Jul 14, 2016 - Page 6 News List

Thousands protest sexual assaults at bull run

NY Times News Service, MADRID

Participants run ahead of a Nunez del Cubillo fighting bull on the seventh day of the San Fermin festival in Pamplona, Spain, yesterday.

Photo: AFP

The northern Spanish city of Pamplona has become famous worldwide for its high-risk festival in which revelers run through narrow streets in the early morning with charging bulls on their way to the ring, but the annual festivities and street drama have taken a darker turn this year after 15 people were arrested over the past week in separate cases of sexual assault, including gang rape.

The arrests have set off mass protests, including on Monday evening, when thousands of people interrupted the festivities to denounce the attacks. Many held up signs showing an open hand painted in red with the slogan: “No is No.”

The episodes come at a time of heightened awareness and mounting anger over sexual assaults in Europe in a year that began with scores of attacks during New Year’s Eve celebrations in Cologne, Germany.

Refugees and migrants were largely blamed for the attacks. Germany passed a law that would make it easier to prosecute suspects of sexual violence.

Reports of other sexual attacks, many at large gatherings, have proliferated across Europe.

This month, Swedish police said they were investigating reports that dozens of women, many of them teenagers, were sexually assaulted at two summer music festivals.

Police in Pamplona so far have not disclosed the identities of the suspects.

The city’s raucous San Fermin festival has attracted thousands of people from all over the world since it was immortalized by Ernest Hemingway in his 1926 novel The Sun Also Rises.

A 19-year-old woman was alleged to have been raped early on Thursday last week by five men from Seville, who also recorded the attack.

The men, who are in custody awaiting trial, include a graduate of Spain’s military police corps as well as another member of the armed forces.

Since then, police have been investigating reports of three other rape cases, as well as several complaints about sexual harassment, including one filed by a female police officer, who said she was molested on the job.

Pamplona City Hall had organized a special information campaign to help prevent sex crimes during the bull-running festival this year. The police presence was also stepped up and surveillance cameras were added in some areas deemed to be risky.

Pamplona Mayor Joseba Asiron told reporters on Tuesday that his administration believed that the number of sexual assaults was probably in line with previous years, but in the climate of heightened awareness about sexual violence, he welcomed the protests against the attacks and the fact that people seemed more inclined to report such assaults.

“The real difference with other years isn’t that such things are happening, but that they are finally getting denounced,” Asiron said. “What is coming to light isn’t just the tip of the iceberg, but the dimension of the problem.”

“The image, whether good or bad, that is being projected from this city is that of a sick society, not only here, but everywhere,” he said.

Still, he said that “999 out of 1,000” of the people who visit Pamplona during the running of the bulls are “wonderful people, who come to have a good time.”

As a sign of protest, spectators of Monday’s bullfight in Pamplona left the ring in silence. Bars also turned off party music as protesters gathered at one of the main squares.

“Such terrible events are of course very bad for our image, but it is positive that our government is showing the courage to bring to light this problem and everybody is becoming aware that such things can’t be allowed to happen,” said Amaia Cia, a veterinarian who took part in Monday’s protest.

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