A bizarre reason for allowing groping

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.”


  1. Holms says

    I wonder what the difference is between doing a thing versus doing it jokingly. Seems to me that in either case, the thing has happened.

  2. says

    Make that boundary pushing in my 2. I reserve boundary testing and checking for situations where there is room for individuals to work out other things. The public situation, age difference, and power differences make this boundary pushing.

  3. sonofrojblake says

    I’d like to stand with a clenched fist in front of these judges and promise them, truthfully, that that fist will be in contact with their face for far, far less than ten seconds….

  4. says

    …performing an “awkward manoeuvre without lust”.

    I can certainly believe this “maneuver” was performed with petty malice or contempt, and not actual lust for the victim. But that doesn’t justify it by any stretch of legal or moral reasoning.

  5. SailorStar says

    Men feeling entitled to manhandle and verbally abuse women is nothing new. In 1985, sportzballz player John Riggins jeered at Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (who wa at the other end of their table minding her own business) and told her to “loosen up, Sandy Baby!”* before getting out of his seat to further harass her. I guess it was just her good fortune that he passed out drunk onto another woman before he got to her to lay hands on her.

    Ask any woman alive and she’ll tell you of men who felt they had the right to lay hands on them for their own titillation.

    * https://www.nytimes.com/1991/12/15/sports/pro-football-riggins-and-life-without-blockers.html, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Riggins

  6. says

    Hey, next time she sees him she needs to punch him in the balls: “Hey, that wasn’t assault. I was only joking, and it took less than 10 seconds.”

  7. jenorafeuer says

    The ‘less than ten seconds’ thing reminds me of a story I heard once, though I don’t have any citations to back it up at the moment…

    Basically, woman walking past construction site was getting regularly catcalled and harassed. Eventually she took the company to court over this. The ‘it’s just a joke’ defence came up, the fact that they were catcalling her for more than ten seconds was used to shoot that down. Company eventually loses the case and has to pay damages.

    Next time the woman walks past the site, not only is she still getting catcalled, but a significant number of the construction workers are loudly counting the time. The court had ruled that only catcalls for longer than ten seconds was harassment, so they were being sure to get their ten seconds worth of ‘fun’ before they had to stop.

    You’d better believe that any sort of defining of harassment by time is going to attract the attention of folks eager to see just how close they can get to the line without stepping over it.

    Also, Italy… what do you want to bet this judge was one of Burlusconi’s picks? That sort of attitude is certainly perfectly in keeping with him…

  8. Jazzlet says

    I don’t think it is necessary to hit the judge or offender, just inflict having their pants pulled down in a public place, perhaps as the judge walks to the bench would be appropriate . . .

  9. Holms says

    #5, #8 Just make sure the strike is jocular!! Maybe laugh maniacally as he recoils from the impact…?

  10. Matt G says

    jenorafeuer@9- The very fact that they are performing this 9-second trick is evidence that they are aware that what they are doing is with malicious intent.

  11. SailorStar says

    @12: of course it’s malicious intent. In the case Mano refers to above--and in cases all over the world--the perpetrators have gotten away with it for so long that they expect to…and they mostly do.

    Another example is the E Jean Carroll case, where Trump followed a woman into a dressing room and sexually assaulted her. Had she reported it when it happened 20 years ago, it wouldn’t have been taken seriously. Women know this from centuries of lessons, which is why physical and sexual assault so often go unreported.

  12. brightmoon says

    Omg does that bring back some weird memories. I had a naturally tiny waist as a teen and as a young woman and guys were always coming up to me and trying to span my waist with their hands . I sorta got used to it and would just laugh it off . I just realize now how blatantly inappropriate that was because most of them were complete strangers .

  13. Callinectes says

    Italy also has a case of a dangerous bear, that attacked a person, being given a stay of execution, for now at least. Presumably because the mauling lasted less than 10 seconds.

  14. Holms says

    You made a sweeping statement not limited to Italy: all bears. And no, pandas are not considered dangerous. Also, in context, the dangerous bear is clearly the one that wanders into human spaces, contrasting with the ones that stay in the woods. Exception that proves the rule sort of thing.

  15. John Morales says

    Ah, I see. All about me, again.

    Still, gotta love the quibbling. #NotAllBears

    (I grant dead bears are less dangerous than live bears, too)

    Ah well: https://theeuropeannaturetrust.com/italy-is-home-to-the-worlds-most-endangered-bears-heres-how-we-can-save-them/

    Since I should be a bit on topic, I note that when I was a child in Spain (1960s), it was a thing that attractive women in public places would have to put up with pinches of their buttocks from men who were supposedly admiring and complimenting them thereby. Or at least, that was the impression that I got from living there at the time.

  16. Holms says

    “All about me” has become your new phrase for someone criticising your comment. Sure, all about you, just as it was all about Callinectes back in #16.

  17. John Morales says

    Of course it’s not pointless; here is an outcome of that enterprise:

    I suppose I should have been more specific, so I might add that neonate bears probably aren’t themselves dangerous, but their circumstances are likely to be associated with, like, mommy bears who might take it askance if their cub(s) are molested. So, though the bare baby bears bear no danger, they are still dangerous to approach.

    And what about the possible transitive properties of dangerousness?

    I mean, step on bear poop, slip and fall down, strike one’s head, bad stuff.
    Definitely can be dangerous. … but #NotAllBearPoops

    But I get it — why poop into this thread to comment about groping and the remnants of patriarchal culture as evinced by the featured news item?

    Much better to discuss me and my comments. At each other, even.

  18. Silentbob says

    At this stage, could there be anyone left who *doesn’t* think Morales is nothing but a troll?

  19. John Morales says

    Aaand, another comment about me.

    Me, me, me.

    Not about the topic. Not about a comment, even.

    About me.

    Mano, perhaps a comment about this behaviour?

    Already driven away one person, who I thought an excellent commenter, both from here and from Pharyngula.

    I know it’s kinda shitty for the blog, but I’m not one to turn the other cheek, and so this feedback loop seems to continue.

    Anyway. Silentbob, I don’t think Morales is nothing but a troll, and I should know, being he. So yes, there is indeed someone left.

    (At this stage, it’s fucking bleeding obvious who is trolling whom)

  20. John Morales says

    Well, yes, Silentbob, 27 is pointless.

    (I know)

    Yet here we are.

    Me, me, me.

  21. Holms says

    No John, entirely up to you to stop your own endless sniping. If you had not pointlessly nitpicked Callinectes’ reference to a bear as dangerous, I would have had no stupidity to point out. But if you insist on this ‘me me me’ framing, consider what it implies whenever you reply to someone else, starting with your comment #16. Callinectes, Callinectes, Callinectes! Followed by Holms, Holms, Holms; Sonof, Sonof, Sonof; and finally sBob, sBob, sBob. Often multiple times a day.

    Not surprising from someone that thinks posting about a thing means thinking the thing is a big deal; what I see as an ordinary comment you take as a Big Deal and hence obsession with the subject when it is repeated.

    Or maybe you just don’t like minuscule nitpicking when you are the subject? Your appeal to Mano is very funny, given who you are and what your m.o. has been for longer than the existence of FTB…

  22. John Morales says

    Of course. It’s yet again up to me. Someone has to be mature.

    Or maybe you just don’t like minuscule nitpicking when you are the subject?

    I love it, Holms. You are an endless font, though what your picking of nits is pretty feeble.

    So. Pandas.

    Let’s recapitulate while I try to explain the bleeding obvious to you.
    When I wrote “Callinectes, all bears are dangerous.”, it was in relation to “Italy also has a case of a dangerous bear”, as if only some bears were dangerous.

    In this case, the adjective is there to make it seem as though this bear was in some way worse than any other bear, but we all know it’s not the case.

    And to claim that bear is being given a stay of execution implies that execution is a fair enough thing to do to the bear, as if it had been some sort of criminal.

    Wild animals are not tame animals, and killing them for being wild animals is to me a bit sad.

    So, a little bit orthogonal, somewhat oblique, but expressing a sentiment.

    Whether or not Callinectes got my sentiment remains unknown, but what is evident is that the usual gaggle of tag-teaming yippy yappers yip-yapped and turned this thread into what it is now become.

    Or maybe you just don’t like minuscule nitpicking when you are the subject? Your appeal to Mano is very funny, given who you are and what your m.o. has been for longer than the existence of FTB…

    Seeking signs and portents from the Powers that Be.

    (Gotta say, I’ve hardly ever seen nitpicking more minuscule than yours — I mean, Pandas! 😉 )

    Because yeah, I’m getting that the strategy is to make me seem so very annoying that Mano either censures or bans me, and since I’m getting tag-teamed I perforce comment more than any individual of the pack.

    So. Groping. Italy. Court. Injustice. Legal system. Jurisprudence. Culture.

    All that is irrelevant, it’s more about me than anything else.

    Not even a pretense of trying to be on topic by you mob. Obvious is obvious.

  23. Holms says

    John, if replying to you means it is ‘all about you’, you realise your replies to me mean the same thing? And you realise your complaints of leaving the topic behind for nitpicking is pretty rich, given this little excursion started with your nitpick of Callinectes’ implication that some bears are not dangerous? You chose to ignore it. As for my thoughts on the topic, please refer to what I said in this thread before you said your first comment here. I at least started on topic, you ignored it from the outset.

    And from context, it was clear that Callinectes was referring to the relative danger of a bear wandering out of the wilds and into human spaces, compared to those that don’t.

  24. John Morales says

    John, if replying to you means it is ‘all about you’, you realise your replies to me mean the same thing?



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