August 10, 2023

Sexual assault should not have a timer

Sofiya Tkachenko in Oxford, United Kingdom

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Police car, Benevento, Campania, Italia

Picture by: Pom' | Flickr

A recent court ruling in Italy which supported a school caretaker who assaulted a 17-year-old girl on the grounds that it was “too short” not only permits men to continue assaulting without consequence but also silences women.

In the case involving a 17-year-old girl, a student in a Rome high school was walking up the stairs when 66-year-old Antonio Avola put his hands under her pants, groping her buttocks and underwear, after which he laughed and said it was “just a joke.”

Since the assault lasted less than 10 seconds he was found not guilty.

When the girl reported the assault in April 2022 to the police, Avola admitted his guilt, but repeated to the court that it was “just a joke.”

Rome’s public prosecutor asked for a three-and-a-half-year prison sentence and was denied because according to the judges, the assault was an “awkward manoeuvre without lust.”

“Well, it was no joke to me,” the student commented. “That handful of seconds was more than enough for the caretaker to make me feel his hands on me.”

The modern justice system is known to have a problem with defining sexual harassment and this problem is not only present in Italy.

If we would take the definition given by the Metropolitan Police: ‘Rape is when a person intentionally penetrates another’s vagina, anus or mouth with a penis, without the other person’s consent. Assault by penetration is when a person penetrates another person’s vagina or anus with any part of the body other than a penis, or by using an object, without the person’s consent.’

In terms of sexual or indecent assault, it is defined as ‘an act of physical, psychological and emotional violation in the form of a sexual act, inflicted on someone without their consent. It can involve forcing or manipulating someone to witness or participate in any sexual acts.’

To be exact, assault is not even always a physical act and it definitely does not have any time constraints.

According to the recent statistics provided by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA), 70% of Italian women who had suffered from harassment between 2016 and 2021 did not report the incident. This statistic should be consumed together with the fact that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over half of women and one in three men experience sexual assault involving physical contact in their lifetime.

These numbers prove that cases like these discourage women from reporting their assaults because they know the justice system will not support their claims in most cases or, even worse, dismiss it at all.

As reported by NPR the standard for harassment under the law is high, and only an estimated 3-6% of the cases ever make it to trial.

Sexual harassment takes place everywhere nowadays, workplaces, public transportation, and even at home.

According to the United Nations, between 40-50% of women in European Union countries experience unwanted sexual advancements, physical contact or other forms of sexual harassment at their workplace.

In this case, the assault took place at school and what makes it even worse is that the perpetrator was a caretaker at the said school. School is the place where young people are supposed to feel safe and supported, especially by the teachers and other personnel, and not feel violated and scared.

The whole case is another terrifying example of how the justice system worldwide fails victims of sexual assault once again and promotes inconsequential violence, as well as gaslighting the victims into silencing their stories and experiences.

Can the justice system that supports assault under these pretences be called justified?

Written by:


Sofiya Tkachenko

former Editor-in-chief

Kyiv, Ukraine | Vienna, Austria

Born in 2006, Sofiya is originally from Kyiv, Ukraine, but now, because of the war, she has relocated to Vienna, Austria. She is interested in writing about culture and politics, especially the current situation in Ukraine and the world as a whole, but is planning on studying Biology in Vienna next year. 

Sofiya joined Harbingers’ Magazine as a contributor in the spring of 2022. A few months later, she took on the role of the social media and the Harbingers’ Weekly Brief newsletter editor. After half a year, her devotion and hard work promoted her to the position of editor-in-chief of the magazine – in September 2023, she took the helm from Sofia Radysh, who stepped down having completed her one-year term.

In her spare time, Sofiya organises charity poetry events and is working on multiple projects regarding the promotion of Ukrainian culture in Europe.

She speaks Ukrainian, English, Russian, and a bit of German.



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