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Last Updated: Monday, 14 July, 2003, 11:43 GMT 12:43 UK
'Hands off women', Italian men told
By Suzanne Bush
In Rome

Italian men have long held a reputation for being more forward towards women than your average male around the world.

Crowded public transport
Some public transport is notorious for groping
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 intimidating.

Italian guidebooks warn women about wandering hands on crowded buses. One even mentions a specific bus route notorious for men preying on female tourists.

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.

Alessandra Mussolini
In general Italians are gentlemen, but sometimes you can find a person who is bad and this sentence can help
Alessandra Mussolini
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 resisted.

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 doing it."

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 you are friends and the woman is very beautiful, if you touch her just a little, I think it's OK
Waiter Daniele Tamiglio
"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 top.

"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."

'Not violence'

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 it's OK."

It won't change the way they behave because I don't think girls often go to the police over this kind of thing - a slap in the face is always better
Tara Londi
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 reason."

In theory, the decision offers women in Italy more protection against wandering hands, which is generally considered a problem of the workplace.

This kind of obsession and anxiety about (men's) sexual behaviour is why they feel the need to be like this in the square or in the street
Massimo Canivacci
PRofessor of cultural anthopology
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 men.

"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."




SEE ALSO:
Women in jeans 'cannot be raped'
11 Feb 99  |  Europe
Outrage at 'jeans alibi' verdict
12 Feb 99  |  Europe


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