An Italian appeals court — a panel of three female jurists — acquitted two men of rape in 2017, in part because the judges agreed with the defendants’ argument that the victim looked like a man and therefore they could not have been attracted to her. Now that ruling has been overturned and a retrial has been ordered.
The reasoning behind the appeals court’s ruling, revealed Friday through the Italian Supreme Court’s retrial order, triggered outrage over the weekend. Hundreds of people on Monday protested outside the appeals court in Ancona, the city of 100,000 on Italy’s Adriatic coast, where the alleged rape occurred.
The case dates to 2015, when a 22-year-old woman reported that she had been attacked. Her injuries were, according to doctors, consistent with rape, and that her blood showed a high level of benzodiazepines, a type of tranquilizer, seemingly backing up her lawyer’s claim that her drinks had been spiked at a bar after an evening class. In 2016, the men were convicted.
But in 2017, the appeals court in Ancona overturned the conviction, after the female judges agreed with the defendants’ argument that the woman looked “too masculine” after seeing a photo of her. The judges wrote that it was “not possible to exclude the possibility that it was” the woman who organized the evening at which she says she was drugged and raped. The judges noted that one man “didn’t even like the girl, to the point of having stored her number in his phone under the nickname ‘Viking’, an allusion to an anything but feminine figure, rather a masculine one.”
The woman was not present at the appeals court hearing because she had returned to her native Peru. The woman’s lawyer, however, called the judges’ reasoning “disgusting,” and filed an appeal to the supreme court.
“It was disgusting to read; the judges expressed various reasons for deciding to acquit them, but one was because the [defendants] said they didn’t even like her, because she was ugly,” Cinzia Molinaro, the woman’s lawyer, told the Guardian. “They also wrote that a photograph [of the woman] reflected this.”
The case will now be reheard by a court in Perugia, a city about 80 miles away from Ancona.
The case brings to light the treatment of rape victims in Italy. Molinaro said her client moved back to Peru because of how the community in Ancona reacted when she came forward against the two men.
According to a 2015 Italian National Institute of Statistics report, nearly 1 in 3 Italian women have disclosed physical or sexual violence, and 5 percent of Italian women have reported being the victim of rape or attempted rape. Rape in Italy is more commonly reported by foreign women than by Italian women.
Rebel Network, the Italian women’s rights group behind Monday’s protest, tweeted, “Rape does not fulfill a desire for pleasure, but an abominable hatred and contempt for the victim. It does not depend on how feminine you are, but on the hatred inside the rapist.”