A high-profile trial in Italy shows that an EU directive defining rape as sex without consent could have helped victims.

A crowd

Protest in Palermo against the increasing number of violent attacks against women Photo: Victoria Herranz/imago

ROME taz | How did she fare when the accused removed the young woman's pants and panties? Did she resist or not? Did any of the young men hold her hair with one or both hands during oral sex? And anyway, did she “she participate she” she in sex or not? These are just three of the more than 1,400 questions that the victim had to face in court. Questions that defense lawyers for the four defendants asked during a total of six days of trial to undermine the credibility of the rape victim.

In the case, four young people have to answer for gang rape. The trial, which has lasted almost two years, is receiving maximum attention in Italy because Ciro Grillo is in the dock. He is the son of Beppe Grillo, the well-known comedian and founder of the Five Star Movement, which has shaken Italian politics for the last decade.

In the summer of 2019, Grillo junior would have taken the 19-year-old girl, whom all the Italian media calls “Silvia”, and a friend of hers, after a visit to a nightclub, to her parents' holiday villa. in Sardinia. There, according to Silvia's later statements, first one of her friends, then Ciro and the other two men attacked her and forced her to have sexual relations repeatedly.

But time and time again during the trial it seems as if it was not her, but the girl, who was sitting in the dock. A defense attorney wants to know why she didn't simply bite the perpetrator's penis to defend herself during oral sex. For this reason, Silvia's lawyer speaks of “secondary victimization.” By this he means that the young woman will once again be a victim in the trial.

All processes are the same.

As was the case decades ago, rape trials in Italy still work like this: the victim has to prove that she actively resisted. That is why all questions are allowed, at the end of the day it is about “reconstructing what happened”, as one of the defense lawyers of the four accused explained.

Therefore, the defense strategy also includes examining the victim's sexual life as a whole. In 2015, six young men from Florence were acquitted of gang rape because the lack of consent of their 16-year-old victim, who was drunk at the time of the crime, was not evident to them and because she had attracted attention beforehand with his behavior too revealing.

An EU directive defining rape as sex without consent would also make trials like Grillo Junior's more bearable for victims. And it would possibly lead to fewer acquittals, as in the Florence case.

Violence against women, femicides and rape are often widely reported in newspapers and television news in Italy. That is why the trial against Ciro Grillo and his three friends receives so much media attention. However, until now there has been little discussion about how women's consent to sexual relations should be assessed in courts.

Only the non-governmental organization “Differenza donna”, which supports women victims of violence, spoke out on the EU agreement. Started a petition on “Change.org”, addressed to Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Council President Charles Michel, with the aim of maintaining the definition of rape as sex without consent in the planned EU directive. The EU. The appeal, written in Italian, English, German, French and Spanish, has so far received 79,000 signatures.