Can an act of sexual harassment be deemed insignificant if it lasts for less than 10 seconds? This is the subject of intense discussion on social media in Italy, as many young people express their outrage over a recent court decision involving a school caretaker and a teenage victim.
The incident took place at a high school in Rome, where a 17-year-old student reported being groped by a 66-year-old caretaker while walking up a staircase with a friend. The student described feeling her trousers fall down, followed by the sensation of a hand touching her buttocks and grabbing her underwear. When she confronted the caretaker, he dismissively claimed it was a joke, saying, “Love, you know I was joking.” According to the BBC.
In April 2022, the student reported the incident to the police, leading to a trial where the prosecutor sought a three-and-a-half-year prison sentence for the caretaker. However, to the dismay of many, the caretaker was ultimately acquitted of sexual assault charges. The judges ruled that the incident, which lasted less than 10 seconds, did not meet the criteria for a crime.
This controversial ruling has sparked a significant outcry in Italy, with individuals taking to social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok to express their disapproval. The hashtag #10secondi has gained traction alongside a trend called “palpata breve,” or brief groping. Italians are sharing videos where they silently look into the camera while touching their intimate parts for a full 10 seconds, aiming to illustrate just how long that duration can feel.
Notable figures, including actor Paolo Camilli from the series White Lotus and influential personality Chiara Ferragni, have participated in this movement. Francesco Cicconetti, another prominent influencer, raised an important question on TikTok: “Who decides that 10 seconds is not a long time? Who times the seconds while you’re being harassed?” He strongly asserts that men have no right to touch women’s bodies, even for a single second, let alone 5 or 10.
Cicconetti further argues that the court’s decision to acquit the caretaker exposes the normalisation of sexual harassment within Italian society. The Freeda Instagram account concurs, denouncing the ruling as absurd and emphasizing that the duration of harassment should not diminish its severity.
In contrast to the judges’ perspective, the victim vehemently disagrees with their characterization of the incident as a mere joke. In an interview with Corriere della Sera, she stated, “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.” She feels deeply betrayed, not only by the caretaker but also by her school and the justice system. Her trust in institutions has been shattered, and she fears that the court’s decision will discourage other girls and women from reporting similar incidents.
Disturbingly, recent statistics from the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency reveal that between 2016 and 2021, 70% of Italian women who experienced harassment chose not to report it. This ruling is likely to further discourage victims from coming forward, perpetuating a culture of silence that protects aggressors.
The case has ignited a vital conversation about the importance of taking all forms of harassment seriously, regardless of their duration. It serves as a reminder that even brief acts of violation can have profound and lasting effects on the victims involved.