Uproar as school caretaker cleared of assault because grope only lasted less than 10 seconds

By , K24 Digital
On Fri, 14 Jul, 2023 09:42 | 2 mins read
Uproar as man cleared of assault because grope only lasted less than 10 seconds
A One Billion Rising flash mob protests against violence against women on the Spanish steps in Rome. PHOTO/Guardian

An Italian judge has provoked outrage after clearing a school caretaker of sexually assaulting a teenage girl because the grope lasted only “a handful of seconds”.

A 17-year-old student at a school in Rome complained of being groped by the caretaker as she walked up a staircase with a friend in April 2022.

She said her trousers had fallen down from her waist and as she was pulling them up she felt a pair of hands touching her buttocks before the man grabbed her underwear and lifted her up by about an inch.

She said that when she turned around, the caretaker brushed off the grope, saying: “Love, you know I was joking.”

Antonio Avola, 66, went on trial on charges of sexual assault, with prosecutors seeking a three-year jail term if he was convicted. Avola confessed to groping the student but said it was a joke.

The judge ruled that the grope lasted “between five and 10 seconds” and was therefore too fleeting to be considered a crime.

The ruling said that while the teenager’s account was credible, the “modalities” of the gesture left “margins of doubt” on the “voluntary nature of the violation of the girl’s sexual freedom … considering the very nature of touching the buttocks, for a certainly minimal time, given that the whole action is concentrated in a handful of seconds.”

The judge added: “Furthermore, it seems likely that the brushing of the buttocks was caused by an awkward manoeuvre of the defendant which, due to the dynamics of the action, was carried out while the subject was in motion.”

Italians expressed their outrage on social media by posting videos of themselves touching intimate body parts alongside the hashtags “palpata breve” (brief grope) and “10 secondi” (10 seconds).

The trend was started by the White Lotus actor Paolo Camilli and picked up by Italy’s most prominent influencer, Chiara Ferragni. Another influencer, Francesco Cicconetti, wrote on TikTok: “Who decides that 10 seconds is not a long time? Who times the seconds while you’re being harassed?”

Women’s groups also criticised the ruling. “The brief grope is harassment in all respects,” said Elisa Ercoli, the president of Differenza Donna.

Luisa Rizzitelli, a coordinator in Italy for One Billion Rising, the global network fighting to end violence against women, said: “The interpretation by the court of what was a sexual assault is completely mistaken and extremely damaging. The fact that it was a joke and only last five or 10 seconds doesn’t matter – it was sexual harassment and should be treated in that way.”

Italian judges have been criticised in the past for similar rulings. In 2017, a judge in Ancona cleared two men of rape partly because he said the victim looked too masculine to be a target of attraction.

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