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Organizers Of Pamplona Bull Run Step Up Efforts To Address Sexual Assault Concerns

Revelers celebrate the official opening of the 2019 San Fermin fiestas in Pamplona, Spain, Saturday.
Alvaro Barrientos
Revelers celebrate the official opening of the 2019 San Fermin fiestas in Pamplona, Spain, Saturday.

The northern Spanish city of Pamplona this weekend opened its famous running of the bulls festival, a nine-day traditional event that draws thousands of spectators who come to watch people dodge bulls bolting down tight streets.

The festival makes Pamplona's population of nearly 200,000 residents jump to about a million visitors, and is considered one of Spain's biggest tourist attractions.

This year, however, event organizers are taking added measures to address enduring concerns over women being sexually assaulted during the festival.

It's the latest move by festival planners in responding to a scandal that engulfed the festival after an 18-year-old woman was gang raped at the festival in 2016. The case sparked mass protests and helped ignite a Spanish version of the #MeToo movement, with supporters around Spain adopting the slogan #Cuéntalo, or "tell your story."

At this year's festival police are bolstering surveillance, setting up booths where women can receive resources related to sexual assault and launching a dedicated cellphone app for women to report abuses.

Last month, Spain's Supreme Court sentenced five men – who called themselves "la manada," or "the wolf pack" – to 15 years in prison over the rape.

And despite how the high-profile case focused new attention on the issue of sexual assault at the festival, reports of abuse by women have continued. In years past, authorities struggled identifying alleged perpetrators of sexual assault amid the large crowds of revelers jammed in the Spanish city's narrow streets, not to mention how the raucous event is by nature chaotic and dangerous. The Associated Press reported that five people were hospitalized with bull-related injuries after this year's opening bull run alone.

But the new measures this year are intended to curb sexual assaults and make women who attend the event feel more safe. Last year, there were 25 incidents, according to The Guardian. The number was down from 40 allegations of sexual assault reported in 2017.

The persistent problem led to organizers this year stepping up and security efforts, which will include local and national police and officers from France and Italy.

Ahead of the festival, Pamplona's city council declared its "commitment to continue working for a festival in which men and women can freely and safely enjoy themselves," The Guardian reported.

The new effort to address sexual assault, the city council said, is aimed at dealing with sexual aggression in a "coordinated and consistent manner."

Years of public outcry over the 2016 incident has women's rights' activists hopeful that changes will be enacted beyond new monitoring and enforcement at the festival.

Carmen Calvo Poyato, Spain's acting deputy prime minister, has vowed to overhaul Spain's sexual assault laws to clarify consent in rape trials, proof that Spain's version of the #MeToo movement is having a real impact on lawmakers, wrote Eloise Barry in an opinion piece in The Guardian.

"The injustice in the wolf pack case has been righted and it has empowered a generation of women," she wrote.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bobby Allyn is a business reporter at NPR based in San Francisco. He covers technology and how Silicon Valley's largest companies are transforming how we live and reshaping society.