London, July 23 : After much agitation by women's groups, Italy's top appeals court has reversed a controversial 1999 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".
When the decade old ruling was reversed by the judges of the Court of Cassation, feminists welcomed the belated change of heart to a chorus of "and about time too".
The much-delayed ruling came after a court in Padua convicted 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" in May 2005. This sentence was defended by the regional appeals court in Venice in October.
In his defence, this man, identified only by the initials RP under Italian privacy laws, appealed to the Court of Cassation by citing its landmark 1999 ruling and insisted that it was impossible for him to commit 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".
RP claimed that because the jeans were so tight the girl had unbuttoned them to allow him to fondle her, which implied that she had consented to his sexual advances. The girl complained to her father and her boyfriend, who went to the police.
The 1999 ruling had earlier overturned the conviction of a 45-year-old driving instructor from Potenza who was accused of raping an 18-year-old client, after Italian feminists created uproar against the view of the appeal court judges that the victim must have collaborated because her jeans were too tight.
In order to protest, 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, went to the extent of wearing jeans to parliament.
Ms Mussolini said that she was pleased with the latest verdict.
However, 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," Times Online quoted her, as saying.
Maria Gabriella Moscatelli, who runs Telefona Rosa, a helpline for women seeking legal advice, emo- tional support or refuge from domestic violence, said: "Finally we have justice, with a sentence which respects the rights of all women. It shows that when civil society, politicians and pressure groups mobilise themselves the law has no choice but to be on their side."