Spain: Court rejects gang rape sentence in 'Wolf Pack' case appeal

A regional court in northern Spain upheld a controversial ruling on Wednesday that sentenced five men to jail for nine years for sexually abusing an 18-year-old woman.

The Navarra court rejected the prosecution's call for 20-year sentences for each of the men on rape charges.

The group of men, who referred to themselves as "The Wolf Pack," were accused of raping the woman at the start of the San Fermin bull-running festival in July 2016 in the city of Pamplona. The five men filmed the attack on their smartphones and boasted about it on WhatsApp.

Government to change rape law

In a statement, the judges said there was no proof of violence and that it was unclear whether intimidation had taken place due to a lack of force used against the victim.

According to Spain's current law, an offence can only be classified as rape if there is evidence of violence or intimidation — such as being threatened with a knife or being physically hit.

In July, the Spanish government announced plans to change the country's penal code in order to make rape convictions easier.

"The sentence reinforces the need to make precise changes to the crimes of rape and sexual violence and to differentiate them from those of abuse," Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo said on Twitter on Wednesday.

Read more: 'New wolf pack' detained over rape in Spain's Gran Canaria, reports

Dissenting judges call attack 'rape'

Two judges on the five-member, all-male panel disagreed with the decision — saying that the gang had committed rape and urging for tougher sentences.

The dissenting judges described the attack as "an act of intimidation and coercion created by all of them, laying a trap for the victim given the near zero possibility she had of escaping."

They also said the attack constituted a "rape" not only due to the acts inflicted upon the victim, but also due to the fact that she was left "half naked" on the ground while one of the men in the group took the memory cards out of the victim's phone.

The judges concluded that the men should have each been jailed for 14 years, three months and one day.

However, all five judges in the Navarra court agreed that the filming of the attack violated the victim's privacy and ordered the lower court to issue a sentence for the offense.

Read more: What do Europeans consider sexual harassment?

Call for new protests

In April, the five men in the "Wolf Pack" were handed nine-year jail terms for sexual abuse, but were acquitted of the more serious charge of rape. They were released after each paying €6,000 ($6,800) in bail and appealed the court's decision.

The case and their sentencing sparked massive nationwide protests and garnered international media attention in the wake of the #MeToo movement that has highlighted sexual abuse and mistreatment.

"If you resist they kill you, if you don't resist you consent. What to do?" read one sign displayed during an earlier protest.

Following Wednesday's ruling, additional demonstrations were announced across Spain.

rs/amp (AFP, Reuters)

Each evening at 1830 UTC, DW's editors send out a selection of the day's hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.