A judge in Italy has issued what can only be described as bizarre reasoning in acquitting a school caretaker of groping a 17-year old student. There was no doubt about what the groper had done. The attacker did not deny it.
The case involves a 17-year-old student at a Rome high school.
She described walking up a staircase to class with a friend, when she felt her trousers fall down, a hand touching her buttocks and grabbing her underwear.
“Love, you know I was joking,” the man told her when she turned around.
After the incident, which happened in April 2022, the student reported the caretaker, 66-year-old Antonio Avola, to police.
He admitted to groping the student without consent, but said it was a joke.
A Rome public prosecutor asked for a three-and-a-half year prison sentence but this week the caretaker was acquitted of sexual assault charges. According to the judges, what happened “does not constitute a crime” because it lasted less than 10 seconds.
But according to the judges, the caretaker did not linger. He groped the teenager only briefly, performing an “awkward manoeuvre without lust”.
‘Joking’? ‘Without lust’? Hardly, when you read how the student described it.
“The caretaker came up from behind without saying anything. He put his hands down my trousers and inside my underwear.
“He groped my bottom. Then, he pulled me up – hurting my private parts. For me, this is not a joke. This is not how an old man should ‘joke’ with a teenager.”
“That handful of seconds was more than enough for the caretaker to make me feel his hands on me.”
I do not know how the law works in Italy and whether the judge’s reasoning that any groping up to ten seconds is not a crime will become some kind of precedent for future rulings. But, as many people have pointed out, ten seconds is a long time, not ‘briefly’, when you are being groped, and some have posted videos of themselves touching their own bodies for that time to show how excruciatingly long it is.
This is not the first time that the Italian legal system has shrugged off this kind of assault as merely light-hearted pranks.
In 2016, a 65-year-old Italian man accused of groping his female colleagues was found not guilty of sexual harassment because an Italian court ruled that he was driven by an immature sense of humour.
The ruling was condemned in the country where around a third of women aged 16 to 70 are said to have suffered some form of physical or sexual violence.
A junior colleague accused the man of touching her sexually, while a second woman said he treated he like ‘a little girl… as if he were giving me a light slap on the behind’, court documents stated.
The court in Palermo, Sicily, admitted he had behaved exactly as the women said but decided to acquit him anyway.
If these two outcomes are typical of the response of the Italian legal system to such acts, it is not surprising that “70% of Italian woman who had suffered harassment between 2016 and 2021 did not report the incident.”