Five Spanish men accused of gang-raping a girl at Pamplona’s famous San Fermín festival were convicted of a lesser crime of sexual abuse on Thursday, unleashing furious protests over a case that has stirred intense national debate.
The defendants in the “La Manada” (Wolfpack) trial – as the Seville men referred to their group – were cleared of sexual aggression and other charges, which could have earned them prison sentences of more than 20 years.
Instead, the men were sentenced to nine years in jail for “sexual abuse with undue influence” – a verdict denounced by women’s groups as amounting to a licence for rapists.
Outside the court, after the ruling was delivered by judges in Pamplona amid crowds of reporters and activists, demonstrators cried “It’s not abuse, it’s rape!”. Some attempted to break through security barriers.
Thousands of people turned out for evening protests in towns and cities across Spain, chanting “I believe you” and “It was rape”.
The alleged gang rape at the annual Running of the Bulls in 2016 generated headlines worldwide, drawing attention to increasing reports of predatory sexual behaviour at the festival. At home, the case fuelled controversy over the treatment of sexual crimes, many viewing the trial as an interrogation of the victim rather than of her alleged attackers.
The men’s defence had centered on the lack of physical resistance or vocal objection by the Madrid woman, then 18. The unnamed victim, who was later found by a couple crying and curled in a fetal position on a bench, claimed she was terrified into submission when surrounded by the group in an empty entrance way.
Prosecutors had asked for sentences of more than 22 years on charges including sexual aggression, crimes against intimacy and theft with intimidation – the latter for having stolen the girl’s phone. The men – among them a soldier and a police officer – have already spent almost two years in jail, meaning they could be eligible for release permits in just over a year.
Amnesty International Spain said the failure to recognise that sexual relations without consent constitute rape "foments the idea that the responsibility falls to us as women to protect ourselves from rape".
Four of the five men – José Ángel Prenda, Ángel Boza Florido, Jesús Escudero Domínguez, Alfonso Jesús Cabezuelo, and Antonio Manuel Guerrero Escudero – were members of the “Wolfpack” WhatsApp group, conversations from which emerged in the press but were ruled inadmissible in court.
Texts exchanged before their trip discussed using sedatives for “rapes” and it would be “a trial by fire for being a wolf”. Afterwards, members announced they had “f***ed a girl between five” and announced they had taken video – 96 seconds of footage which was examined at the trial.
However, social media posts made by the woman were presented as evidence that she did not behave like a distressed victim.
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The verdict drew condemnation from public figures such as Pablo Iglesias, the leader of Left wing party Podemos.
“How was there not intimidation? It seems as if victims are being told that, if you don’t confront five bullies who are double your size, risking your life, they are not raping you. Shameful and disgusting,” he said.