sexual assault
Judges determined that the incident "does not constitute a crime" because it lasted less than 10 seconds. This is a representational image. markgoddard/Gettyimages

Is an incident considered sexual harassment if the assault lasts for less than 10 seconds?

In Italy, numerous young people are expressing their anger on social media following a judge's decision to acquit a school caretaker of groping a teenager on the grounds that the incident was deemed too brief.

The case revolves around a 17-year-old student attending a high school in Rome.

According to the student's account, as she was ascending a staircase with a friend on her way to class, she experienced her trousers being pulled down, felt a hand touching her buttocks, and her underwear being grabbed.

"Love, you know I was joking," the man told her when she turned around.

Following the incident, which occurred in April 2022, the student reported the 66-year-old caretaker, Antonio Avola, to the police.

Avola admitted to groping the student without her consent but claimed it was meant as a joke, BBC reported.

The public prosecutor in Rome requested a three-and-a-half-year prison sentence for Avola. However, this week, the caretaker was acquitted of sexual assault charges by the judges.

They determined that the incident "does not constitute a crime" because it lasted less than 10 seconds.

Since the ruling, a trend called "palpata breve," meaning "brief groping," has emerged on Instagram and TikTok in Italy.

It involves individuals posting videos in which they look at the camera in silence and touch their intimate parts for precisely 10 seconds, often accompanied by the hashtag #10secondi.

These videos, although uncomfortable to watch, aim to convey the subjective experience of how long 10 seconds can feel.

The trend began with the first video posted by Paolo Camilli, an actor from the series "White Lotus," and has since garnered the participation of thousands of individuals.

Notably, Chiara Ferragni, Italy's most renowned influencer with 29.4 million Instagram followers, reposted one of these videos, further amplifying the trend's visibility.

Francesco Cicconetti, another influencer, wrote on TikTok: "Who decides that 10 seconds is not a long time? Who times the seconds, while you're being harassed?"

"Men don't have the right to touch women's bodies, not even for a second - let alone 5 or 10."

A post on the Freeda Instagram account says: "This sentence is absurd. The duration of the harassment should not diminish its severity."

But according to the judges, the caretaker did not linger. He groped the teenager only briefly, performing an "awkward maneuver without lust".

"The judges ruled that he was joking? Well, it was no joke to me," the student told Corriere della Sera newspaper.

"The caretaker came up from behind without saying anything. He put his hands down my trousers and inside my underwear.

"He groped my bottom. Then, he pulled me up - hurting my private parts. For me, this is not a joke. This is not how an old man should 'joke' with a teenager."

"That handful of seconds was more than enough for the caretaker to make me feel his hands on me."

The student expresses a sense of double betrayal, feeling let down both by her school and by the justice system.

"I'm starting to think I was wrong to trust the institutions. This is not justice."

The student expresses concern that the judge's ruling could discourage other girls and women from reporting similar attacks.

This fear stems from the belief that such outcomes may contribute to a lack of trust in the justice system and create a deterrent for survivors to come forward and seek justice.

This concern is reinforced by recent data from the EU's Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA), indicating that a significant percentage, around 70%, of Italian women who experienced harassment between 2016 and 2021 did not report the incidents they faced.

"They will feel that reporting abuse is just not worth it. But it is important because silence protects the aggressors."

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