A woman holds the traditional red scarf during the chupinazo in Pamplona. Photo:Viajar24h.com. CC-BY-2.0
The San Fermín festival – and the city of Pamplona, Spain – is known internationally for the running of the bulls and the festival’s ‘no-rules’ party atmosphere. In recent years, its hedonistic reputation has darkened amid rising reports of sexual abuse.
In 2013, pictures surfaced and were shared around the world of women surrounded by men touching their breasts at the festival’s opening chupinazo party. Since 2015, the local government has received dozens of reports of harassment at the annual event.
Though local officials say that the growing number of such reports is a good thing – and a sign of a ‘paradigm shift’ that has made society less tolerant of sexual violence and has enabled more women to come forward and disclose attacks.
“Before almost nobody dared to report [incidents],” said Tere Sáez, a key figure in Pamplona’s feminist movement and a parlamentary in the Navarra region. “It was something hidden,” she said, while now “there is no tolerance of sexual violence.”
Laura Berro, Pamplona’s city councillor for equality, also attributes rising numbers of sexual violence incident reports to years of awareness-raising work and institutional collaboration with feminist groups that has produced a societal “paradigm shift.”
“This social change is what makes easier for a woman to report,” said Berro, who also stresses that such violence “is not a San Fermín thing.” The difference in Pamplona, she says, is “we are exposing it. And that is what makes our city safer.”
‘Exposing sexual violence is what makes our city safer.’
The San Fermin festival is attended by 1.5 million people each July – including hundreds of thousands of foreign tourists.
Last year, there were two reports at the festival of what the Spanish penal code calls “sexual aggression” such as rape or other sexual activity without consent and including violence – fewer than in 2015 (four reports) and 2016 (five).
Meanwhile there have been significant increases in reports of ‘minor incidents’ of harassment or abuse including touching without consent. There were 39 such reports registered by the city during the festival last year, and 43 in 2016 (versus 25 in 2015).
San Fermin is not the only global mega-festival to be marred by recent reports of sexual violence. This year’s three-day, 50,000-people Bråvalla music festival in Sweden was canceled after four rapes and 23 sexual assaults were reported in 2017.
Though the number of reports does not necessarily equal the number of incidents. There may be more reports of violence in places where people are more aware of their rights, for instance, as a EU Agency for Fundamental Rights report explains.
Rather than being a particularly dangerous place for women, Sáez says that Pamplona may be “much more active” than other cities in exposing and confronting abuse.
The 2008 murder of Nagore Laffage – a 20 year old woman who was raped and killed by a fellow student during San Fermin “was a turning point,” she told me. “The whole population joined to reflect on this subject, propose measures, and respond.”
“The whole population joined to reflect on this subject, propose measures, and respond.”
Since 2014, local and regional government officials began to work together more closely with feminist groups, producing Spain’s first protocol of action against gender violence, now used at all mass events in Navarra and as an example for other cities.
This protocol details how different authorities must act when women report attacks, from security forces to medical and legal professionals, with the aim to provide complete and coordinated assistance to those who come forward.
Pamplona now has year-round efforts to tackle gender violence along with a special team including members of feminist groups focused on San Fermin specifically.
Since 2015, Pamplona has reinforced the festival’s security measures, installed 200 surveillance cameras, and distributed guides on how to support victims of violence.
The city also installed a stand in its main square, where women can report sexual attacks during the festival including abuse, harassment and other incidents like insults.
Ahead of this year’s events, earlier this week the city launched a free mobile app that enables women to live-report attacks to the police.
Women demonstrate in Madrid against the initial sentence of “La Manada” case, April 2018. Photo:María Navarro Sorolla/Flickr. CC-BY-NC-2.0
Women must be supported to report attacks as this is the necessary first step to bringing alleged assailants to justice, says Berro.
Referencing the infamous ‘La Manada’ case in which a then 18-year old girl was attacked by a group of men at the 2016 festival, Berro said: “If she had decided not to report it, the security forces wouldn’t have known what happened.”
Though securing justice in such cases may be another matter.
This April, five men in the La Manada case received an initial sentence of nine years in prison for sexual abuse – though they have been released from detention as this preliminary judgement is reviewed by the courts.
Feminists across Spain have protested their release along with the jury’s verdict, which cleared the men of rape charges amid what the jury said was insufficient evidence of violence or intimidation (despite the the girl having been outnumbered five to one).
For Sáez, there are problems within the Spanish penal code, which she says insufficiently addresses sexual violence and leaves too much to judges’ interpretation. “We also have to give gender equality training to all the judges,” she told me.
But feminists in Pamplona believe the opposite is needed. “Now more than ever we must occupy the streets,” Berro, the Pamplona city councillor, said. “It has cost a lot to get this public space and we can’t renounce it.”