Italian men have long held a reputation for being more forward towards women than your
average male around the world.
Walking the streets of Italy, unwanted
attention often comes in the form of whistling, beeping from passing vehicles, or
catcalling, which can range from complimentary to offensive and
Some public transport is notorious for groping
Italian guidebooks warn women about wandering hands on crowded buses. One
even mentions a specific bus route notorious for men preying on female
But now there's a new rule: look but don't touch.
Italy's highest appeals court recently jailed a 58-year-old man for patting
a girl on the behind as she worked in her parents' ice-cream shop. He now
has a year and two months to consider his actions.
The ruling ends a controversy that broke out two years ago, when the court decided in
another case that a single or "sudden" slap was acceptable if it was
"isolated or impulsive".
This sparked outrage around the world, and it wasn't the first time the
Italian justice system had courted controversy in this way.
In February 1999 a court ruled that a woman couldn't have been raped because
she was wearing jeans, which would be impossible to remove if she had
Alessandra Mussolini of the right-wing
National Alliance, who is the granddaughter of the Italian dictator, led protests against the rape ruling and says the new decision shows the
appeals court is finally listening to society.
"In general Italians are gentlemen," she says, "but sometimes you can find a person who
is bad and this sentence can help.
"It happens sometimes when you're on the
bus, they try to touch sometimes, and now they have to think twice before
The appeals court may have changed, but common practice has not.
"If a girl is dressed up they'll always shout things after her," says dancer Emanuela Rossi, 22.
"If it's something complimentary that's different, but if it's a bit vulgar, I hate it.
"When I take the Metro, if I'm dressed up it really annoys me the way they look at you, even older men."
For some men, classing bottom-patting as "sexual violence" is over the
"I don't think it's very serious to
do this to a woman," says 59-year-old Rome bus driver Lucio Papa.
"I've done it, joking around with friends. But I suppose
this ruling might change the way men behave, they might be a bit more
careful about how they touch women."
Daniele Tamiglio agrees that classing a pat as an act of violence is wrong.
"A slap on the behind? I smile because I don't think it can be called 'sexual violence'," said the 26-year-old waiter.
"If you are friends and the woman is very beautiful, if you touch her just a little, I think
But some Italian men accept the "look but don't touch" rule.
"Calling out to women, you can do
that," says Mabri Akile, 25, who works in an internet centre in Rome. "But the really important thing is not to touch. Everyone knows that
and they respect that."
And 39-year-old consultant Daniele Magi thinks this ruling was needed, but is
worried it may be abused.
"I suppose it's quite a problem here in Italy," he says. "But
women may use this ruling as a weapon against a man they may hate for some
In theory, the decision offers women in Italy more protection against
wandering hands, which is generally considered a problem of the workplace.
But many women think wandering-handed men won't be reformed overnight.
"It won't change the way they behave because I don't think girls often go to the
police over this kind of thing," says 20-year-old Tara Londi.
"A slap in the face is always better."
Others believe any change could be in the hands of women themselves.
"I hope things will change, maybe not because of any decision the court makes, but
maybe we women can change things, by bringing up our children in a different
way," says lawyer Raffaela Constantini, 30.
Massimo Canivacci, professor of Cultural Anthropology at Rome's Sapienza
University, thinks this behaviour underlines an insecurity among Italian
"This is a way of affirming in public that Italians do it better," he says.
"This kind of obsession and anxiety about their sexual behaviour is why they feel
the need to be like this in the square or in the street."