Supreme court triggers outrage by upholding decision to annul jail sentence of two 19-year-olds who raped 16-year-old
The Italian supreme court has caused outrage after ruling that those convicted of gang rape do not have to be sentenced to jail.
Late on Thursday the court upheld a constitutional court decision to annul the jail sentence of two 19-year-old men found guilty of gang raping a 16-year-old near Rome. A lower court had ruled that jail was the only sentencing option, but the supreme court disagreed, saying judges could apply alternatives.
Critics said the ruling that prison was not automatic for group rape convictions could allow some rapists to go free. Two former equal opportunities ministers – Barbara Pollastrini from the Democratic party of the left and Mara Carfagna, a minister under the former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi – both spoke out against the decision. “This sends the wrong message,” Carfagna said.
The courts appear to be struggling with a tough decree passed by the Berlusconi government in 2009 mandating prison sentences for sex offenders.
The conservative parliamentarian Alessandra Mussolini, granddaughter of Benito Mussolini, called the ruling “a time bomb waiting to explode”. A long-time advocate for tougher anti-rape laws, Mussolini in 1999 donned jeans to protest inside parliament over another controversial supreme court rape decision, the so-called “denim defence”. In that case, the court overturned a 34-month rape sentence in southern Italy, suggesting a woman could not be raped while wearing jeans since they were impossible to remove unless she helped.
In Italy, sexual assault was changed from a moral offence to a criminal felony in the 1990s. The former interior minister Roberto Maroni, who helped push through the 2009 decree, urged the government to make the law enforceable by the courts. “This sentence is not just a bad sentence. It is worse – it is dangerous,” Maroni told the Corriere della Sera newspaper. “If we don’t propose another law we are going to end up with Cain winning over Abel.”