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Last year, an Italian high school student was groped by an Italian custodian named Antonio Avola. The custodian not only put his hand in the female student’s pants but also inside her underwear. The prosecutor on the case wanted a four-year prison sentence for the custodian, yet the defendant would receive no time. This is because the judge ruled that the man’s hand did not linger long enough since it was only there for about five to ten seconds.
The ruling has also caused outrage, as Italians are angry about why the duration of sexual harassment should matter in order for the perpetrator to receive a punishment. According to the victim and multiple witnesses in the hallway, it was unwanted contact. The custodian himself confessed to his actions but tried to excuse them as a joke. However, instead of being concerned about whether or not the alleged victim consented to the custodian touching her (which she did not), the judge was more concerned about the duration of the incident, which members of the general public feel is a trivial aspect of the case. This situation is particularly concerning because the custodian acted this way in front of other students, which raises the question, What would he do in a situation where he is alone with a student?
The judge’s ruling has inspired an online trend among Italians to film themselves groping for less than 10 seconds in order to prove a point regarding the ruling. The videos are meant to show how long ten seconds can feel in an inappropriate situation such as the one that occurred in the high school in Rome. In one video, a woman can be heard telling a man that she will report him to the police after he touches her bottom. He tells her to “wait”. She responds by asking “Why does she have to wait?”. The man says, “9 seconds, so it is not a crime” and the woman says “Ah yes, excuse me, under ten seconds is not a crime excuse me, you are right”. Paolo Camilli, an actor from the series White Lotus, made one of the first videos groping his own chest.
Inappropriate Humor And Old Enough To Not Be Intimidated
While Italians are furious over the judge’s ruling, this is not the first time sexual harassment has been allowed to occur and gone unpunished by a judge. In 2016, another judge in Italy gave no prison time to a man who sexually harassed female colleagues at work because the defendant has an immature sense of humour. The judge in Palermo believed the woman’s story but still refused to punish the perpetrator. This sends a dangerous signal to people that inappropriate behaviour can be excused if it can be argued that it was motivated by an immature sense of humour. Massimo Gramellini, a commentator, wrote an opinion piece for La Stampa (Italian newspaper) comparing the ruling to what can be expected from a court in Saudi Arabia. In Sicily, the local UIL labour union branch stated “(The ruling) ignores the sensitivity and dignity of the working women and at the same time unfathomably permits the sexual violence, which was perpetrated even if on a small scale.”
It is important to remember that human dignity is the first value listed in the second article of the Treaty on the European Union. As a member state of the EU, Italy is supposed to protect these values, yet allowing people who are guilty of sexual harassment is not protecting the human dignity of the victims. Besides this case, however, a judge in 2018 also dropped a case against Carlo Tavecchio, former head of the Italian football federation, because the victim was old enough to not be intimidated. Tavecchio once suggested that football stadiums could also be used as lap-dancing venues.
High School Protest
This is far from the first case of female students facing harassment in high school rather than being able to focus on learning. In a small town in Calabria last year, students occupied a high school for two weeks in protest over the inappropriate behaviour of a teacher towards female students. Students who took courses with the professor 8 to 12 years prior to last year also came forward with their own accusations. Female students came together and posted allegations anonymously on Instagram. The professor would inappropriately touch female students and make comments with double meanings about their physical appearance and intimate lives during his classes. There are concerns that other teachers working at the high school were aware of the situation but did not put an end to the behaviour. There is at least one case of a female student who transferred from the high school in order to escape the situation.
It is unfortunate that female students continue to face harassment at school rather than being able to focus on their education. It is not only important that female students and students in general speak up when there is inappropriate behaviour between a teacher and a student, but the follow up is important as well. Accusations need to be thoroughly investigated, and the teachers who abused their positions of power need to be properly punished. As long as there are judges who refuse to give a proper sentence to those guilty of harassing students, people will feel empowered to behave appropriately if it appears they can get away with it. While the examples discussed in the article occurred in Italy, this unfortunately happens all over Europe and other continents. One solution may be for voters to demand that politicians change the law for sexual harassment to require a minimum prison sentence and not allow judges to avoid sentencing guilty defendants.
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