Hamburg state prosecutors said on Monday that they are appealing the sentences against several young men, found guilty last week of raping a 14-year-old girl.
“We want the mild verdict to be reassessed as to whether it is legally wrong,” state prosecutors’ spokeswoman Nana Frombach told broadcaster NDR.
Four young men between the ages of 14 and 21 had gotten the girl drunk in February, raped her and then left her outside - partially clothed and unconscious - in freezing temperatures. A 15-year-old girl filmed the rape on a cell phone and gave the others directions.
When the 14-year-old girl was found, she was hypothermic with a body temperature of 35.4C (95.7F) and had to be treated by a hospital’s intensive care unit. Initially state prosecutors had wanted to also investigate the case as attempted murder, according to NDR.
The Hamburg regional court observed in its ruling that the offenders had “thrown the girl away like garbage” and sentenced four of the five offenders to suspended sentences of between one to two years on Thursday.
Only the 21-year-old involved was sentenced to four years in prison because he was tried as an adult. In Germany, juvenile law operates under a principle of education rather than punishment.
NDR reports that relatives and friends of the convicted cheered when the sentences were announced in court.
Since the ruling, outrage has erupted online over the suspended sentences, similar to that seen in the US when former Stanford student athlete Brock Turner was convicted of sexual assault and served just three months in prison.
The lead judge, Georg Halbach, said that while the “sentences may seem mild to the public,” the offenders aged between 14 and 17 had made credible confessions, appeared remorseful and had good social prospects. Some of them are to be placed in youth centres, or in therapy.
A petition was started on Change.org to appeal the Hamburg court’s sentence, garnering more than 20,000 signatures as of Monday afternoon. Prosecutors said the petition did not have an influence on their decision to appeal.
“It cannot be that a four-person gang rape of a 14-year-old girl ends with a suspended sentence, in particular because the girl was left in the cold like a piece of meat and half-naked,” the petition states.
“The ‘future prospects’ of the perpetrators and the educational ideals of juvenile laws can and should not result in a brutal gang rape of a helpless 14-year-old being swept aside. The sexual self-determination and integrity of a woman must have more weight here than concerns for the perpetrators.”
Low rates of conviction
Germany has reexamined its rape laws in recent years, after a high-profile case involving a TV model, as well as numerous sexual assaults reported on New Year's Eve last year.
Judges had long interpreted the laws as requiring victims to show proof of physical resistance to consider a case as rape.
But in July, the German parliament approved tougher “no means no” measures to cover victims who for various reasons may not have physically fought back.
Before this, the requirement to prove physical resistance was blamed for contributing to the country's low rape conviction rate: a 2014 study by the Criminological Research Institute of Lower Saxony found that the conviction rate of accused rapists had dropped from 21.6 percent in 1994 to 8.4 percent in 2012.