Thousands protest across Spain after 5 men are cleared of gang rape

Thousands of protesters flooded the streets in cities across Spain after a court failed to convict a group of men for the gang rape of an 18-year-old girl during the Running of the Bulls festival in 2016.

Instead of convicting the five men of rape on Thursday, a three-judge panel in Pamplona in northern Spain found the men guilty of the lesser crime of “continuous sexual abuse,” according to CNN. Unlike a rape charge, sexual abuse charges indicate that violence or intimidation were not involved in the assault.

The judges’ verdict prompted demonstrators to protest outside of the Pamplona courthouse in droves, calling the sexual abuse conviction unjust.

Amnesty International’s Spanish chapter said the judges’ ruling makes women responsible for their rapists.

“The absence of legal recognition that sexual relations without consent constitutes rape encourages the idea that we as women bear the responsibility to protect ourselves from rape,” the organization wrote on Facebook in Spanish. “These attitudes are dangerous and have to change.”

See images from the protests:

The attackers have come to be known in Spain as “La Manada,” or the “Wolf Pack,” named after the title of a WhatsApp chat group that included four of the five men. Before the festival, members of the chat group discussed using sedatives on women to rape them, according to The Telegraph.

After the attack, members of the “Wolf Pack” boasted that the men had “f***** a girl between five” and had footage to prove it. CNN reported that one of the men concluded in a text that the festival had been an “amazing trip.”

The assault occurred two years ago during the famous Festival of San Fermín in Pamplona. While testifying against the men last year, the victim said the five men, whom she didn’t know, led her through a doorway, gang-raped her, then stole her phone and fled, Public Radio International reported.

Some of the men had filmed part of the assault on their cellphones, resulting in seven videos that had a total of 96 seconds of footage which was viewed during trial.

The woman was later found crying on a bench, according to The Guardian. She filed a report with police and the five men were arrested the next day.

The assault dominated local media for two years, sparking in the country a Spanish version of the Me Too movement against violence on women.

After the verdict was handed down, demonstrators protested outside of the Pamplona courthouse, as well as in the cities of Alicante, Barcelona and Madrid.

The attackers, José Ángel Prenda, Alfonso Cabezuelo, Antonio Manuel Guerrero, Jesús Escudero and Ángel Boza, were sentenced to nine years in prison, five years’ probation and were ordered to pay €10,000 to the victim, the Guardian reported.

Over the years, Pamplona’s bull festival has been plagued with sexual assaults on women, with reports ranging from women being groped to more violent assaults including rape. In 2015, similar protests were held after a 19-year-old British woman was reportedly assaulted in a bathroom by a group of men during the festival. She was eventually rescued by her friends.

Days before the “Wolf Pack’s” 2016 assault, Pamplona’s city council added to the festival’s official rulebook a warning against “sexual assaults against women,” according to the Telegraph.

“Sexist attacks against women of any age and in all circumstances will be investigated and punished,” Pamplona Mayor Joseba Asiron said at the time, the British newspaper reported.

“San Fermín must be a festival which women can enjoy freely, safely and with complete equality.”

Both the state prosecutors and the defendants’ attorney in the “Wolf Pack’s” case said they would appeal the judges’ ruling.

Inigo Mendez de Vigo, a spokesman for the Spanish government, said on Friday that they would review laws against sexual crimes and update them if necessary, according to CNN.

“The government has been, is and always will be with the victims,” he said.

But after Thursdays’ ruling, it appears as though protesters in Spain would disagree.

  • This article originally appeared on HuffPost.