ECHR criticises Italian court for referring to ‘red underwear’ in rape case

The European court of human rights has condemned an Italian court for “reproducing sexist stereotypes” after it referred to a woman’s red underwear and bisexuality as signs of her “ambivalent attitude towards sex” when acquitting six men accused of gang-rape.

The case dates back to 2008, when the woman, a student, 22 at the time, claimed she had been raped by seven men in Florence.

Six of the men were convicted of rape after an initial trial before having their convictions overturned by an appeals court in Florence in 2015.

In its ruling, the Florence court cited inconsistencies in the woman’s story.

The European court did not challenge the verdict but criticised the Florence court for using language that violated the woman’s right to privacy. In its ruling on Thursday, the ECHR said the language “conveyed prejudices existing in Italian society regarding the role of women that were likely to be an obstacle to providing effective protection for the rights of victims of gender-based violence, in spite of a satisfactory legislative framework”.

In particular, the ECHR pointed to the references “to the red underwear ‘shown’ by the applicant in the course of the evening to be unjustified, as were the comments regarding her bisexuality, relationships and casual sexual relations prior to the events in question.”

The ECHR also ordered the Italian state to pay the woman €12,000 (£10,300) in compensation.

The ECHR’s ruling was welcomed by the woman’s lawyer, Titti Carrano. “The life and dignity of this woman were trampled on just as her privacy, dignity and image have been trampled on,” Carrano said. “I hope the Italian government accepts this condemnation and that it will work to train legal practitioners so that no further cases of secondary victimisation are repeated in criminal and civil trials.”

Antonella Veltri, the president of women’s network D.i.Re, said the ECHR’s sentence was “extremely important”, adding that it confirmed “the cultural backwardness of the Italian judicial system”.

In 2017, an appeals court in Ancona cleared two men of rape charges, partly because the alleged victim looked “too masculine” to be a target of attraction. Two years later, Italy’s highest appeals court scrapped the lower court’s verdict and ordered a retrial. In February 2017, a man was acquitted by a Turin court of raping a woman on a hospital bed after the judge ruled the woman did not scream loudly enough.

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