Italy's justice minister has requested an investigation into whether a judge rightfully acquitted a man of a sexual assault charge because the woman did not scream.
Italian news agency ANSA reported Thursday that Justice Minister Andrea Orlando, a member of the Democratic Party, wants to revisit the case in which a 46-year-old Red Cross employee was accused of sexually assaulting a female colleague.
A judge in Turin in northern Italy tossed the case last month, deciding that the woman's reaction was too weak to justify a sexual assault charge, ANSA reported. The woman only said, “Stop it” and “Enough” without crying out or calling for help.
The names of the defendant and his accuser were not made public.
The incident happened in 2011. The woman told authorities that the man threatened to not provide her with work if she did not submit to sexual acts, according to the BBC, which cited a report by an Italian newspaper.
The woman said that, perhaps, she should have been more forceful, but “with people who are too strong, I just freeze,” she said, according to the BBC.
Following the acquittal, the woman must now face a slander charge, according to media reports. Prosecutors said her father abused her when she was a child.
The ruling has drawn criticism from Italian center-right lawmaker Annagrazia Calabria, who said the judge's decision was “incomprehensible and far removed from justice.”
“There are judicial sentences that leave one speechless,” Calabria said in a Facebook post. “The suffering of those who live through a terrifying and despicable act is not measurable by screams. And certainly, you cannot punish the personal reaction of a woman who is terrified by what is happening to her.”
About five years ago, the Italian supreme court sparked outrage after it ruled that two 19-year-olds charged with the gang rape of a younger teenager didn't have to be incarcerated while they awaited trial, Reuters reported.
The controversial 2012 decision also attracted criticisms from lawmakers.
Mara Carfagna, who was a minister under former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, said the decision “sends the wrong message,” the Guardian reported.
Alessandra Mussolini, an Italian politician and granddaughter of fascist leader Benito Mussolini, called the ruling “abhorrent” and “a time bomb waiting to explode,” according to Reuters.
“A woman who sees her torturer spared from prison is raped twice,” Mussolini, a longtime advocate of stronger punishments for rape crimes, said.
In 1999, Italy's highest appeals court provoked another controversy for throwing out the rape conviction and 34-month sentence of a man because the victim wore tight jeans, the Telegraph reported. The court found that the defendant, a 45-year-old driving instructor, could not have possibly taken off his 18-year-old client's jeans without the teen consenting to his advances.
The incident happened in 1992 in the town of Muro Lucano in southern Italy. The 18-year-old told authorities that her instructor drove her to a secluded area and raped her, the New York Times reported. The instructor said they had consensual sex inside the car.
In the decision, dubbed the “denim defense,” the court said that it's “impossible” to remove the jeans if the victim was fighting “with all her force.”
Female lawmakers, including Mussolini, protested the 1999 ruling by wearing jeans inside the Parliament.
“That decision seemed like it came from 50 years ag0,” Mussolini said, according to the Times. “The judges obviously had no sensitivity to the psychology of rape — no understanding of how victims think or how real life works.”
In 1996, the Parliament revised its antiquated rape statute by classifying rape as a crime against a person. The old law, written in 1936 under Benito Mussolini, classified rape as a crime against public morality.
Alessandra Mussolini helped draft the 1996 legislation.
David Filipov contributed to this report.