Italian court clears men of rape charges after woman deemed too 'masculine' to be raped

"I never seen something like that," said Luisa Rizzitelli of the feminist organization Rebel Network. "It's very terrible and we are very shocked about this case."

'Women's rights are under attack' in Italy, says activist Luisa Rizzitelli

Protesters rally outside the courthouse in Ancona, Italy, after news broke that an appeals court overturned a rape verdict in part by arguing that the woman who was attacked was too ugly to be a credible rape victim. (Submitted by Luisa Rizzitelli)

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Italy's Ministry of Justice is launching a preliminary inquiry into a rape sentence that sent shockwaves through the country.

Protestors in the town of Ancona took to the streets on Monday after it emerged two men were acquitted of rape charges because the court ruled the alleged victim was too unattractive and "masculine" to be targeted.

"I never seen something like that," Luisa Rizzitelli of the feminist organization Rebel Network told As It Happens host Carol Off. "It's very terrible and we are very shocked about this case."

Rizzitelli helped organize the protests in Ancona, where people shouted "Shame!" and held up signs saying "indignation."

'Rape does not satisfy a desire for pleasure'

Two Peruvian men were initially convicted of the 2015 rape of a Peruvian woman in Ancona, but the Italian appeals court overturned the verdict and absolved them, finding that she was not a credible witness in part because the suspects had found her unattractive and "masculine."

"There is no connection and no possibility for us to understand how they can write something so unbelievable," Rizzitelli said.

"Rape does not satisfy a desire for pleasure, but is an abominable hatred and contempt for the victim. It does not depend on how feminine you are."

Protesters shouted 'Shame!' and held up signs saying 'Indignation.' (Submitted by Luisa Rizzitelli)

The appeals sentence was handed down in 2017 — by an all-female panel of judges — but the reasons behind it only emerged publicly last week when Italy's high court annulled it on March 5 and ordered a retrial.

The Court of Cassation said Wednesday its own reasons for ordering the retrial will be issued next month.

All-female panel of judges

Cinzia Molinaro, a lawyer for the victim, said her appeal contested a host of procedural problems with the acquittal verdict but said she had also cited the "absolute unacceptability" of the Italian court's reference to the victim's physical appearance.

Molinaro noted that the woman, who has since returned to Peru, had suffered such genital trauma in the rape that she required stitches.

The Italian Justice Ministry said it was conducting the "necessary preliminary investigations" into the appeals verdict.

Rizzitelli said for the judges to base their ruling on the perceived attractiveness of the alleged victim is absurd. 

Equally unfathomable, she said, is that the ruling was issued by a panel of three women.

"We know that in Italy that we have a very difficult moment now because we think that women's rights are under attack," Rizzitelli said.

"But we cannot imagine that three judges, really in a high level of person, women, can say something like that. It's very bad for us and to think that maybe, also, some judge had eternalized machismo."

Written by John McGill and Sheena Goodyear with files from The Associated Press. Interview with Luisa Rizzitelli produced by Jeanne Armstrong.