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Italian Court Says Its Not Sexual Assault if Under Ten Seconds

Should the length of a sexual assault define whether it violates the law? An Italian court says yes. A 17-year-old student was walking up the stairs at her Rome high school when a 66-year-old school employee pulled down her pants, touched her buttocks, grabbed her underwear, and lifted her slightly off the ground. The girl turned around, and the man said, "Love, you know I was joking." She filed a police report about the incident.

A Rome prosecutor pursued the matter, asking for a three-year sentence. The male employee did not deny the incident; he continued to assert he only meant it as a joke. The court agreed, finding the man's contact with the student was so brief that it left "ample margins of doubt" about his intentions: "The suddenness of the action, without any insistence on the touch, to be considered 'almost a light touch' does not allow for the interpretation of the libidinous or concupiscent intent generally required by criminal law." In its opinion, the court described the incident as an "awkward maneuver without lust."

Perhaps not too surprisingly, many people online reacted strongly to the verdict. Men and women across Italy posted videos of themselves with the hashtag #10secondi (10 seconds). In these videos, people caress themselves or others with a timer to show what 10 seconds feels like. One Italian TikTok influencer asserted the verdict reflects how "normalized sexual harassment is in Italian society." In response to the ruling, the victim said, "It was no joke to me." Data reported by the BBC reflects that 70% of Italian women do not report their harassment.