Silvio Berlusconi's latest appeal and a string of paedophilia and rape rulings that shame Italy

Italian courts must get tougher on sex criminals

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Italian Supreme Court has overturned the conviction of a 60-year-old man for
having sex with an 11-year-old child taking into account their “amorous
relationship”. The court ruled that in the absence of physical force and taking
consensus into account the verdict couldn’t stand.

The Italian court’s ruling comes across as poppycock, and it couldn't have arrived at a worse time.

The news couldn’t have come at a worse time for justice and may herald a better time for one of the most brazen criminal appeals of our times. Silvio Berlusconi filed an appeal on Thursday against a conviction for paying for sex with a prostitute under the age of 18. Let us not forget that even after the slew of bunga-bunga reports and public molestation, this man is considered a hero by many and idolised by your average Italian right-winger as a man to look up to.

The argument that an 11-year-old girl can have a meaningful carnal relationship with a 60-year-old social worker who she was entrusted to is an argument one might find on a Child Love website. If it wasn’t bad enough for the scores of Italian women who fight sexism in their daily lives, they might now have to fight for their daughters too. Italian journalist Maria Rodota put it succinctly, “They can be family men as well as serial playboys; they can work hard and return to splendidly kept houses; they can be anti-Berlusconi, yet make jokes about women Berlusconi-style, and whoever gets offended is just a silly woman.“

Meanwhile academic Kitty Calavita in her paper in Law & Society in 2001 summed up Italian attitudes to sexism and sexual assault, “For when an authoritative source such as law is so out of step with the evolving normative order, the shocking discrepancy exposes not only the fallibility of law but also the foolishness of the outdated moral vision it is caught endorsing”.

In Italy, sexual assault only changed from a moral offence to a criminal offence in the 1990s and yet the prevailing notion is, apparently, that rape is not that serious an issue. . So much so that in 2012 the Italian Supreme Court ruled against holding men accused of gang-rape on remand in prison,encouraging ‘alternatives’.  Stereotypes endure. Rome’s whistling and cat-calling lotharios are as much a national institution as Mozzarella.

This pernicious and persistent belittling of women hides behind a glittering masque of Italian culture. Enough is enough. As romantic as the idea of a butt-pinching romeo might have been in the past, Italy needs to drag itself into Europe 2014.

In 1999, an Italian court overturned the conviction of the rape of an 18-year-old on the basis that she was wearing tight jeans that it would have been impossible to remove them if she had resisted. Despite a ruling in a separate appeal by a 37-year-old man convicted of sexually assaulting his partner's 16-year-old daughter from a previous relationship, that "jeans cannot be compared to any type of chastity belt", there is a perception by many of a Vatican influence in Italy’s judicial matters, somewhat ironically termed 'The Shadow of St Peter’s'. There was almost a breakthrough in 2010 when an Italian Bishop sought to highlight clerical abuse of children. Disappointingly,not much came of it.

This new ruling confirms that not much has changed since 1999; the doddering medieval mentality that makes excuses for paedophiles and rapists rolls on as before. Until courts get tougher on sex criminals, Italy's judiciary and Church-sponsored culture is one that deserves damnation and shaming.

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