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Last Updated: Friday, 17 February 2006, 22:02 GMT
Italy rape ruling draws criticism
By Christian Fraser
BBC News, Rome
The Supreme Court in Italy has ruled the rape of a young girl was a less serious offence because she was already sexually active.
The case involved the appeal of a 40-year-old man who had sexually abused his girlfriend's 14-year-old daughter.
The ruling has been criticised by politicians and child-welfare agencies.
A lower court had ordered the man to serve three years and four months, but his appeal has so far lasted four years and he has yet to spend a day in jail.
On Friday Italy's highest court ruled the sentence was excessive, given the extenuating circumstances of the case.
In a written decision, which will now be sent back to the lower court in Cagliari for consideration, the five Supreme Court judges decided the rape of a minor was a more moderate offence if the child involved was no longer a virgin.
This girl comes from a socially-deprived background, they said, and her personality, from a sexual point of view, was more developed than one would normally expect of a child that age.
The ruling has brought a furious reaction from politicians and child-protection agencies across Italy.
Maria Gabriella Moscatelli, the president of a women's helpline called The Pink Telephone, said the decision had put her country back 50 years.
"It's incomprehensible," she said. "I feel like I've been punched in the stomach."
It was particularly hard to take, she added, given that in the last year her helpline had recorded three times as many allegations of sexual violence as in the previous year.
Italy court draws fire with sex abuse ruling
Fri Feb 17, 2006 7:46 PM GMT
ROME (Reuters) - Sexually abusing a teenager is less serious a crime if the girl is not a virgin, Italy's higher court said on Friday in a controversial ruling that immediately drew a barrage of criticism.
The court ruled in favour of a man in his forties, identified as Marco T., who forced his 14-year old stepdaughter to have oral sex with him after she refused intercourse.
The man, who has been sentenced to three years and four months in jail, lodged an appeal arguing that the fact that his stepdaughter had had sex with men before should have been taken into consideration during his trial as a mitigating factor.
The supreme court agreed, saying that because of her previous sexual experiences, the victim's "personality, from a sexual point of view, is much more developed than what would be normally expected of a girl of her age".
"It is therefore fair to argue that (the damage for the victim) would be lower" if the abused girl was not a virgin, Italian news agencies quoted the court as saying.
This means the man could now be handed a lighter sentence.
News of the ruling immediately drew fire.
"I think we have gone back 50 years," said Maria Gabriella Carnieri Moscatelli, head of the Telefono Rosa association that helps sexually abused women.
"It is inconceivable that such a serious crime that ruins the life of a woman, irrespective of her age, might be considered in a different light depending on whether she is a virgin," she said.
Female politicians from across the political spectrum also strongly condemned the court's decision.
"This is a shameful, devastating ruling," said Alessandra Mussolini, grand-daughter of wartime fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. "The real problem is that there are no women in the supreme court."
Luana Zanella of the Greens opposition party called the court's arguments "abominable".
The supreme court is no stranger to controversial judgements.
In recent years it has ruled that "an isolated and impulsive" pat on a woman's bottom at work did not constitute sexual harassment, and returned a verdict that a woman could not have been raped because she was wearing skin-tight jeans.