In a decision condemned by women’s groups, Italian MPs, and UNICEF, Italy’s Supreme Court ruled last week that sexual abuse is less serious if the victim is not a virgin. The court ruled in favor of a middle-aged man who forced his 14-year-old stepdaughter to have oral sex with him, a crime for which he was sentenced to three years and four months in jail. The man appealed the decision, arguing that he should have a lighter sentence because the girl had had prior sexual experience, according to Reuters. The court agreed, reports the Italian news agency ANSA, ruling that the psychological damage of sexual abuse was less serious for the girl because her previous sexual activity made her “personality… much more developed than one would normally expect in a girl her age.”
The decision shocked the country. “I feel like I’d been kicked in the stomach, as if we’d gone back 50 years,” said Maria Gabriella Carnieri, the head of the ‘Telefono Rosa,’ a helpline for sexually abused women, reports ANSA. Alessandra Mussolini, granddaughter of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, called it a “shameful, devastating ruling,” and said that “the real problem is that there are no women on the supreme court,” Reuters reports.
The Italian court has issued several other controversial decisions in recent history, according to ANSA. In one case, the court ruled that a woman was not raped because she was wearing jeans that were too tight to have been removed without her help. In another ruling, judges said a “sudden and isolated” pat on a woman employee’s behind in the workplace was legally permissible.