'Too Ugly to Be Raped': Italy's Highest Court Rules Attractiveness Irrelevant in Sexual Assault Case

Italy rape case too ugly
This file photo shows the front of the Court of Cassation building on July 30 2013 in central Rome, Italy. ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images

Italy's highest court has ruled that the attractiveness of a victim is irrelevant in rape cases, following the controversial 2017 acquittal of two men accused of sex offenses.

The Supreme Court of Cassation in Rome explained Tuesday why it quashed the acquittals in a decision last month. The court had been asked to rule on the case after it came to light a court in the city of Ancona had dismissed a rape complaint because the victim was unattractive, Italian wire service ANSA reported.

The case pertained to a 22-year-old Peruvian woman who filed a rape complaint against two South American men over an incident that took place in March 2015, The Guardian explained. The two men were initially convicted of rape charges in 2016, but appealed the decision. In November 2017, the pair were acquitted by three female judges who argued that the complaint was not credible because of the woman's "masculine appearance."

Last month, the Supreme Court of Cassation ordered a new appeals trial and quashed the acquittals. On Tuesday, the court explained its decision, noting that a victim's physical appearance is "wholly irrelevant" and "non-decisive" in assessing her credibility.

The woman claimed that one of the two men raped her, with the other standing guard, after the pair spiked her drink. Doctors found that injuries sustained by the woman were consistent with rape, and discovered traces of a date rape drug in her blood.

The judges made their decision to acquit the men based on a photograph of the woman and statements from the accused who said they were not attracted to her. The court heard that one of the men saved her cell phone number under the name "Viking."

The judges suggested it was "not possible to exclude the possibility" that it was the alleged victim who "organized the 'exuberant' evening" and said the victim's testimony was doubtful as she was too masculine for the accused to be attracted to her.

The case prompted public protests in Italy when the initial acquittal was made public. Hundreds of people gathered outside the Ancona court to denounce violence against women and voice their anger at the acquittal.

The victim's lawyer, Cinzia Molinaro, told The Guardian last month that the Ancona court's decision "was disgusting to read." She noted that her client eventually moved back to Peru because she was ostracized from the local community after filing the rape complaint.

A spokesperson for the women's rights group Rebel Network, which organized the Ancona protest in March, branded the initial acquittal "medieval." She explained to The Guardian: "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…It's shameful."