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Italy high court reverses rape conviction because victim was drinking

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Italy’s highest court has been accused of victim-blaming following a high-profile decision in a sexual assault case. In a ruling on Tuesday, the court of cassation in Rome determined that suspects cannot be prosecuted using aggravated circumstances if the victim voluntarily drank alcohol before the attack.

The decision comes as a country already hostile to survivors of sexualized violence continues to shift to the right. “The ruling from the supreme court takes us back decades,” Alessia Rotta, a politician with the center-left Democratic party, told The Guardian. “It is a sentence that risks nullifying years of battles.”

Even before this week’s ruling, the criminal case at issue had faced several determinations and reversals. The two defendants, both 50 years old, were acquitted in 2011 after judges concluded that the victim’s account of what occurred was unreliable.  That verdict was appealed and in January 2017 the two men were found guilty by a different court, after judges reviewed a medical report indicating there was evidence that the woman had attempted to resist the assault. The men were given a three-year sentence and aggravated circumstances were found to apply to the case.

This week’s ruling reversed the lower court’s decision. The men might have taken advantage of the victim’s inebriated state, said the judges, but aggravated circumstances still did not apply since she was not forced to drink the alcohol. The court of cassation has ordered a retrial so that the defendants’ sentence can be adjusted.

This is not the first time an Italian court has used a victim’s behavior to determine the relative guilt or innocence of an alleged rapist. In March 2017, a 46-year-old man was acquitted after the judge decided that the victim had not sufficiently resisted her alleged attacker. “There was no crying, no screaming,” Judge Diamante Minucci told the womanbefore freeing the defendant. “You didn’t push him away. We have to ask why?”

And such victim-blaming attitudes are hardly confined to Italy. A 2016 European Union survey found thatnearly a third of EU country respondents think that forcing someone to have sex against their will is acceptable under a certain circumstances, such as if a woman is wearing “revealing” clothes or if they’re incapacitated by alcohol.

Many Italian survivors of sexualized violence who have come forward in the age of #MeToo have been bullied and threatened by their compatriots. Asia Argento, who became one of the foremost faces of the movement after publicly accusing Harvey Weinstein of raping her about two decades prior, has suffered an intense onslaught. 

“It’s open season on survivors,” Argento wrote in an April opinion piece for The Guardian“The most brutal and vicious response to this flowering of female political thought and action is taking place in my home country, Italy, but the poison seeps out.”

Italy has been caught up in the right-wing, populist fervor that’s sweeping across Europe—and the current political climate seems to be undermining women’s rights. In June, a coalition government was formed between the anti-immigrant Lega Nord (Northern League) party and the anti-establishment (and Eurosceptic and anti-immigrant) Movimento 5 Stelle (Five Star Movement), also known as M5S. Lorenzo Fontana, 38, Italy’s new minister for families and disabilities, has said he believes in “natural” families of one mother and one father, and has participated in anti-abortion rallies. At one such event, he spoke to the crowd, statingthat gay marriage, immigration, and changing ideas of gender were helping “wipe out our community and our traditions.”  

More articles by Category: Gender-based violence, International, Violence against women
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