It is nearly a decade since Italy's top appeals court caused a furore by ruling that a woman wearing tight jeans cannot by definition be raped or sexually molested because the removal of the garment requires her "collaboration and consent".
Yesterday, the judges of the Court of Cassation reversed the ruling, with Italian feminists welcoming the belated change of heart.
The ruling came after the conviction by a court in Padua in May 2005 of a 37-year-old man who was accused of sexually molesting his partner's 16-year-old daughter from a previous relationship by "inserting his hands inside the front of her jeans". The sentence was upheld by the regional appeals court in Venice in October.
The man, identified only by the initials RP under Italian privacy laws, appealed to the Court of Cassation, citing its landmark 1999 ruling and claiming that he could not have committed the alleged acts against the will of the girl because her jeans were too tight. But the court upheld the one-year jail sentence given to the man for sexual assault, ruling that "jeans cannot be compared to any type of chastity belt".
The defendant had claimed that because the jeans were so tight the girl had unbuttoned them to allow him to fondle her and in doing so had consented to his sexual advances. The girl complained to her father, who then went to the police.
The 1999 ruling overturned the conviction of a 45-year-old driving instructor from Potenza who was accused of raping an 18-year-old client.
The view of the appeal court judges that the victim must have collaborated because her jeans were too tight caused uproar among Italian feminists.
Women deputies -- led by Alessandra Mussolini, the far-right politician and granddaughter of the Italian fascist dictator, and Stefania Prestigiacomo, now the environment minister in the centre-right government of Silvio Berlusconi -- wore jeans to parliament as a protest.
Yesterday, Ms Mussolini said that she was pleased with the latest verdict but she regretted that it had "taken until 2008 for the Court of Cassation to acknowledge an obvious fact -- that women's clothing has nothing to do with the violence to which they are forced to submit on a daily basis".
The Court of Cassation, which is staffed mainly by elderly male appeal judges, has issued several controversial judgments on sexual and social mores in the past decade.
It has, however, been increasingly aware of women's rights, issuing rulings on previously accepted acts of sexual harassment such as bottom pinching.
In March, the Cassation judges went so far as to rule that a mistress may lie under oath without committing perjury to protect her honour, clearing a 48-year-old woman from Porto Ercole who had been convicted by a lower court of giving false testimony to police. (© The Times, London)