A judge’s ruling in a recent sexual assault case in Rome, Italy, has sparked widespread outrage, leading to demonstrations against the normalisation of sexual harassment in modern Italian society.
In April 2022, 66-year-old janitor Antonio Avola groped a 17-year-old female student while at school. As the young girl was walking up the stairs with a friend, the offender put his hand down her pants and underwear, grabbing her behind and pulling her up. Soon after, the student reported him to the police, and while Avola admitted to groping her without consent, he claimed it was only a joke - a weak and cowardly attempt to dodge accountability. The judge acquitted the offender of all charges, citing the ‘brief’ nature of the incident. The fact that it was less than 10 seconds long (in Italian it was described as a ‘Palpate Breve’ – ‘a brief groping’) meant it did not qualify as actual sexual assault.
While the prosecutor pushed for a 3-year sentence, the offender got off scot-free despite admitting to molesting the victim. Since then, a public remonstration has ensued as thousands have taken to social media platforms to express anger and disgust at what they deem an entirely unjust and callous ruling. A new trend of videos has come about of people grabbing their private parts for 10 seconds to show just how long and uncomfortable that time can be.
What happened to the victim was a deliberate and material incident of molestation, not a funny joke. Seeing how lightly the offender got away, other victims may feel less inclined to come forward with their own cases of sexual assault out of fear of derision or disbelief, alongside the possibility of being failed by their local justice system,. This will only make it harder for us to solve the problem.