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Sexual harassment and assault

Protests and fury in Spain as Pamplona’s ‘wolf pack’ gang of abusers is released on bail

The five men were jailed for attack on 18-year-old in the entrance of an apartment building during the bull-running festival, but they have been freed pending appeals

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 June, 2018, 9:23am
UPDATED : Friday, 22 June, 2018, 9:23am

Protesters took to the streets in Spain Thursday after a court ordered the release on bail of five men sentenced to nine years in prison for sexually abusing a young woman at Pamplona’s bull-running festival.

The men, who called themselves “the wolf pack” in a WhatsApp messaging group, had been accused of raping a woman, then 18, at the entrance to an apartment building in Pamplona on July 7, 2016, at the start of the week-long San Fermin festival, which draws tens of thousands of visitors.

All five were convicted of sexual abuse in April but were acquitted of the more serious crime of sexual assault, which includes rape, as the court did not consider that the victim had been subjected to intimidation or violence, sparking nationwide protests to demand that the law be changed.

They appealed their jail terms and a Pamplona court on Thursday ordered that the five men be released on bail of 6,000 euros (US$7,000) pending the outcome of the appeal, according to Spanish media reports.

The defendants want us to believe that on that night they met an 18-year-old girl, living a normal life, who, after 20 minutes of conversation with people she didn’t know, agreed to group sex involving every type of penetration, sometimes simultaneously
Prosecutor Elena Sarasate

The court will publish its decision on Friday, a court spokesman said without giving details.

Women’s rights groups immediately took to social media to call for protests on Thursday night with the slogan: “If the pack hits the streets, we will as well.”

Around a thousand people marched in Pamplona, some shouting “Enough macho violence”, and there where also rallies in neighbouring Basque cities Bilbao, Vitoria and San Sebastian.

Hundreds also marched in Barcelona, some holding a banner that read: “In the face of patriarchal justice, feminist self-defence.”

“It is a shame, these scoundrel rapists get away so easily. It seems they want to release them so they are ready to start again on July 7, the day of San Fermin,” said 66-year-old protester Carmen Roman.

Another protest is scheduled to take place on Friday evening outside the justice ministry in Madrid as well as in the southwestern city of Seville, the hometown of the five men, and other cities.

Prosecutors had argued during the closed-door trial last year that the men’s victim was subjected to “serious intimidation and it prevented resistance or flight”.

They had asked for each of the men, who have been in custody since 2016, to be jailed for 22 years and 10 months.

One of the accused is a Guardia Civil policeman – currently suspended – and another was once in the army. Several are “ultras” who support FC Seville.

The fact that the men took a video of the incident with their smartphone and bragged about it in their WhatsApp messaging group added to the outrage over the case.

Defence lawyers claimed the woman had consented and had let one of the men kiss her. They also said that the 96 seconds of video footage from the men’s phones – showing the woman immobile and with her eyes shut during the attack – constituted proof of consent.

The prosecution said the victim had been too terrified to move.

“The defendants want us to believe that on that night they met an 18-year-old girl, living a normal life, who, after 20 minutes of conversation with people she didn’t know, agreed to group sex involving every type of penetration, sometimes simultaneously, without using a condom,” the prosecutor Elena Sarasate said.

The verdict was criticised by many senior politicians, including Pedro Sánchez, the leader of Spain’s socialist party who recently became the prime minister.

“She said NO,” he wrote on Twitter at the time. “We believe you and we’ll keep believing you. If what the ‘wolf pack’ did wasn’t group violence against a defenceless woman, then what do we understand by rape?”

Additional reporting by The Guardian