FILE - External view of the Rome's tribunal taken Friday, June 28, 2013. Italians are taking to social media to denounce a Rome's court verdict clearing a school janitor of sexual assault charges for groping a 17-year-old student because it only lasted between five and 10 seconds. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

Italians outraged after court clears man of groping a teen because the contact was under 10 seconds

Italians are using social media to denounce a court verdict clearing a school janitor of a sexual assault charge for groping a 17-year-old student because it only lasted “around five to 10 seconds.”

The teenager said the man came up from behind her as she was pulling up her trousers while walking with a friend up the stairs in a Rome high school, and slipped his hand beneath her underpants, according to court documents. Pulling on the undergarments, he then lifted her slightly in the air. He admitted to groping her in the April 2022 incident but claimed it was a joke.

A court in Rome ruled last week that the groping was “just a few seconds” and wasn’t sexual, and that it was so brief that his argument that it was a joke was convincing even if “inopportune.”

The verdict will be appealed, the teen’s lawyer, Andrea Buitoni, told The Associated Press. Italian law allows acquittals to be appealed by both the prosecutor and the defence.

Actor and comedian Paolo Camilli, who appears in The White Lotus, posted a video on TikTok this week fondling his chest in front of the camera as a chronometer counts down 10 seconds. “If this is not molestation, I don’t know what is,’’ he said.

The video has spawned copycats, with both men and women fondling their chests to a countdown clock.

Other satirical videos include a woman apologetically excusing a man who has grabbed her rear end after he said he touched her for fewer than 10 seconds, so had committed no crime.

The victim has been following the social media reaction “with mixed feelings,” her lawyer said, ”even if she is heartened by knowing that the judge’s decision is seen by many as an injustice.”

The case has been criticized by women’s rights organizations.

“This kind of verdict is unacceptable. It makes us go backward, and we cannot allow that,” Cristina Ercoli, who heads the anti-violence center at Differenza Donna, told The Associated Press.

She said that the younger generation mobilizing on social media was making clear that “they have no doubt” that decision was wrong. “They don’t need us to say that it was a crime,” she said of the janitor’s action.

In a similar case, Italy’s highest court in 2001 upheld an appeals court decision overturning the conviction of a manager of sexual assault for patting a female employee’s bottom. While the court acknowledged the pat had occurred, it ruled that there was no evidence it was “an act of libido.” He had been found guilty by a lower trial court and sentenced to 18 months in prison.

The same court in 1999 ruled that it was impossible to rape a woman wearing jeans since tightness makes them impossible to remove without help. The ruling prompted female lawmakers to wear jeans to Parliament in protest.

The Associated Press