The Spanish government has announced it will consider imposing harsher penalties on perpetrators of sex crimes following widespread protests over a recent court ruling clearing five men of gang-raping a teenager.
Rafael Catala, Spain’s justice minister, asked legal experts to examine whether the country’s current classification of sexual crimes – established in 1995 – should be updated after the so-called “Wolf Pack” case, government spokesperson Inigo Mendez de Vigo said on Friday.
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Vigo, who also expressed the government’s support for judicial independence, described the 2016 attack by five men on an 18-year-old female – which they filmed on mobile phones – as “despicable”.
The men were also found to have joked about the attack afterwards on a WhatsApp group they belonged to titled La Manada (Wolf Pack).
“The government has always been, and always will be, on the side of the victims and it is going to keep fighting the scourge of violence against women,” Mendez de Vigo said.
Protests continued on Friday in Pamplona, in northeastern Spain, where the July 2016 attack took place during the city’s famous annual bull-running event.
On Thursday, following a five-month trial, a Pamplona court convicted the five male attackers of sexual abuse, clearing them of rape.
Under Spanish law, sexual abuse differs from rape in that it does not involve an attacker using violence or intimidation.
The state prosecutor for the regional government of Navarra, a Spanish province of which Pamplona is the capital, has announced it will appeal the court’s ruling.
The verdict, which sentenced the five men to nine years in jail each, prompted demonstrations denouncing the decision as overly lenient in a number of cities across Spain, including the capital, Madrid.
Many Spaniards also expressed outrage on social media using the “Yo te creo” (I believe you) slogan.
Prior to the court’s decision, the case had already drawn international attention with global concern regarding the sexual abuse of women seemingly heightened in the wake of a number of recent high-profile sexual abuse scandals, including the Harvey Weinstein case in the United States.