Q24N – Does an assault that lasts less than 10 seconds count as sexual harassment?
Many citizens in Italy expressed their outrage on social networks after a court acquitted a school janitor who groped a 17-year-old student in April 2022, on the grounds that the act did not “last long enough”.
The student reported that she felt her pants fall and his hands touched her buttocks and grabbed her underwear when she was going up some stairs towards a class with a friend.
“Amor, you know I was kidding,” the man told her when she turned around.
The janitor admitted to touching the student without her consent, but claimed it was a joke.
The 10 seconds
A Rome prosecutor sought a three-and-a-half-year prison sentence, however, the court ruled that the act did not “last long enough” and was therefore not a crime due to it lasting less than 10 seconds.
Since the ruling, the expression palpata breve (a brief touching) has trended on Instagram and TikTok in Italy, along with the hashtag #10secondi.
Videos have been posted by Italians in which they stare into the camera and touch their private parts for 10 seconds in a row. This was started by actor Paolo Camilli, and many have since joined in.
Popular influencer Chiara Ferragni, who has a large following on Instagram, also shared one of these videos. Francesco Cicconetti, another influencer, commented on TikTok: “Who says 10 seconds isn’t a long time? Who keeps track of the seconds while someone is being harassed?” He goes on to say that men do not have the right to touch women’s bodies, regardless of the length of time.
Cicconetti also mentions the judges’ decision to acquit the employee who was accused of harassment, which he believes reflects the normalization of sexual harassment in Italian society.
Freeda’s Instagram account posted that the sentence was absurd, as the duration of the harassment should not make it any less serious. However, the judges disagreed, believing that the janitor had only briefly committed an “awkward maneuver without lust”.
The student expressed her feelings to the Corriere della Sera newspaper, saying that “The janitor came up from behind without saying anything. He reached down my pants and into my underwear. He touched my butt. Then he lifted me up, hurting my private parts. To me, this is not a joke. This is not how an old man should ‘joke’ a teenager.”
She went on to say that “That handful of seconds was more than enough to make me feel his hands on me” and that she felt betrayed by both her school and the justice system.
She also expressed concern that the judges’ ruling could discourage women from reporting similar attacks, citing figures from the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights that suggest 70% of Italian women who experienced harassment between 2016 and 2021 did not report it.
She emphasized the importance of speaking up, saying “They will feel that reporting abuse is simply not worth it. But it is important, because silence protects abusers.”
She reminded people that they can get updated notifications from BBC News World by downloading the latest version of the app and activating them.