Italians reacted with outrage after a 66-year-old school cleaner escaped punishment for groping a student because it ‘only lasted about ten seconds’.
The 17-year-old schoolgirl was walking up a flight of stairs between classes when the janitor, Antonio Avola, put his hand in the waistband of her trousers and into her underwear from behind.
When she confronted him, he replied, “Come on honey, you know I’m kidding,” according to other students who witnessed the incident, which happened at a Rome high school in April of Last year.
The school guard has been charged with sexual assault and brought to justice. The prosecution had requested a sentence of three and a half years in prison.
But a court in Rome ruled that his groping only “lasted between five and 10 seconds” and that his hand did not “linger” very long in his panties.
He did not intend to seriously assault the teenager, the court heard. Putting your hand down his pants was “awkward” but not a sign of “sexual desire”.
His defence, that it was all a joke, “seems convincing”, the judges ruled, deciding to acquit Mr Avola of the sexual assault charge.
A social media campaign has sprung up in response, with people posting clips on TikTok and Instagram using the hashtag #10secondi.
“It is not fair”
In her first comments on the case, the high schooler said on Wednesday: “For me it was not a joke. A joke is something shared between two people. That’s not how a janitor jokes with a 17-year-old girl. I’m very angry. It’s not fair. I feel betrayed twice – first by the school, where it happened, and now by the court.
She said friends and teachers expressed their solidarity. “A lot of people think it’s shameful that the state doesn’t recognize certain behaviors as violent acts.”
The judgment will deter other young women from complaining about such treatment, she said.
In a front-page opinion piece on Wednesday, an Italian columnist wrote: “How to put a hand in a young girl’s panties for 10 seconds can be considered a joke, I still haven’t been able to figure it out. He said he was just messing around – and nothing happened to him.
The court’s decision carried a strong message for the schoolgirl, the columnist wrote in La Stampa: “She should have had a better sense of humor.”
For many critics, the case reflects the casual sexism and objectification of young women that is still prevalent in Italy.
The late Silvio Berlusconi caused outrage late last year when he promised football team players he had ‘a boatload of whores’ delivered straight to their dressing room if they won their next game.
The former prime minister, who received a state funeral last month after his death at the age of 86, made the promise in December at a Christmas dinner for Monza, the team in the north of the Italy he possessed.
“I told the guys… now you’ll be playing Milan, Juventus. If you win against one of these top teams, I’ll bring a busload of whores to the dressing room.
Last week, an Italian minister, Vittorio Sgarbi, was called upon to resign after he used an appearance at a modern art museum in Rome to tout the penis as “an organ of knowledge, that is to say of penetration” and bragged about sleeping with 1,500 women.
The vulgar remarks prompted calls for his resignation and complaints from opposition MPs.
Mr Sgarbi, who is a prominent art critic as well as a young culture minister in the hard-right Meloni government, claimed he had slept with about nine women a month.
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