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Italian uproar over judge's 10-second groping rule

By Sofia Bettiza for the BBC

ASSAGO, ITALY - DECEMBER 08:  Paolo Camilli attends the X Factor 16 2022 Finale at Assago Foru on December 08, 2022 in Assago, Italy. (Photo by Stefania D'Alessandro/Getty Images)
White Lotus actor Paolo Camilli was the first to post a video showing how long 10 seconds can be when a person is being groped. Photo: AFP

Many young people in Italy are expressing outrage on social media, after a judge cleared a school caretaker of groping a teenager, because it did not last long enough.

The case involves a 17-year-old student at a Rome high school.

She described walking up a staircase to class with a friend, when she felt her trousers fall down, a hand touching her buttocks and grabbing her underwear.

"Love, you know I was joking," the man told her when she turned around.

After the incident, which happened in April 2022, the student reported the caretaker, Antonio Avola, 66, to police.

He admitted to groping the student without consent, but said it was a joke.

A Rome public prosecutor asked for a three-and-a-half year prison sentence but this week the caretaker was acquitted of sexual assault charges. According to the judges, what happened "does not constitute a crime" because it lasted less than 10 seconds.

Since the ruling, palpata breve - a brief groping - has become a trend on Instagram and TikTok in Italy, along with the #10secondi hashtag.

Italians have posted videos looking at the camera in silence and touching their intimate parts for 10 seconds straight.

The videos are often uncomfortable to watch but they have the aim of showing just how long 10 seconds can feel.

The first was posted by White Lotus actor Paolo Camilli, and since then thousands of people have followed suit.

Another video was reposted by Chiara Ferragni, Italy's most famous influencer who has 29.4 million followers on Instagram.

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?

"Men don't have the right to touch women's bodies, not even for a second - let alone five or 10."

He goes on to say that the judges' decision to acquit the caretaker shows just how normalised sexual harassment is in Italian society.

A post on the Freeda Instagram account said: "This sentence is absurd. The duration of the harassment should not diminish its severity."

But according to the judges, the caretaker did not linger. He groped the teenager only briefly, performing an "awkward manoeuvre without lust".

"The judges ruled that he was joking? Well, it was no joke to me," the student told Corriere della Sera newspaper.

"The caretaker came up from behind without saying anything. He put his hands down my trousers and inside my underwear.

"He groped my bottom. Then, he pulled me up - hurting my private parts. For me, this is not a joke. This is not how an old man should 'joke' with a teenager.

"That handful of seconds was more than enough for the caretaker to make me feel his hands on me."

She said she felt doubly betrayed - by her school and by the justice system.

"I'm starting to think I was wrong to trust the institutions. This is not justice."

The student feared the judges' ruling would deter girls and women from coming forward if they were subjected to such attacks.

Recent figures from the EU's Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) suggested that 70 percent of Italian woman who had suffered harassment between 2016 and 2021 did not report the incident.

"They will feel that reporting abuse is just not worth it. But it is important, because silence protects the aggressors."

- This story was first published by the BBC