About 200 people protested outside a court of appeal in the Italian city of Ancona after it was revealed that two men were cleared of rape charges partly because the alleged victim looked “too masculine” to be a target of attraction.
The reasons behind the 2017 ruling came to light only on Friday, when Italy’s highest appeal court scrapped the lower court’s verdict and ordered a retrial.
The men had been convicted of raping a woman of Peruvian origin, who was 22 at the time of the attack in 2015, by a court of first instance in 2016. Her name was not made public under Italian law.
They were then acquitted by the Ancona appeals court, with the judges’ reasoning document including a passage that said the woman’s story was not credible enough as she resembled a man and was therefore unappealing.
The judges – who were all female – drew their conclusions from a photograph of the woman and because the defendants said they were not attracted to her, with one registering the victim’s number in his mobile phone under the name “Viking”.
“I read this sentence in 2017 and that’s why we referred it to the supreme court,” Cinzia Molinaro, the woman’s lawyer, told the Guardian.
“It was disgusting to read; the judges expressed various reasons for deciding to acquit them, but one was because the [defendants] said they didn’t even like her, because she was ugly. They also wrote that a photograph [of the woman] reflected this.”
The case will be reheard by a court in Perugia. Molinaro claims the defendants spiked the woman’s drink with drugs after the group went to a bar following an evening class. Doctors said her injuries were consistent with rape and that there was a high level of benzodiazepines in her blood.
Molinaro said the woman moved back to Peru after being ostracised by the community in Ancona because she reported the men.
Luisa Rizzitelli, a spokesperson for Rebel Network, the women’s group that organised the Ancona protest, lambasted the judges’ ruling as “medieval”.
“The worst thing is the cultural message that came from three female judges who acquitted these two men because they decided that it was improbable that they would want to rape someone who looked masculine,” said Rizzitelli.