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On June 10, 2008, the Supreme Court of Italy (Corte di Cassazione) affirmed a decision made by the Court of Appeal of Venezia condemning a defendant to one year of imprisonment for having repeatedly sexually assaulted a sixteen-year-old girl. The appellant, who was in a relationship with the mother of the victim and cohabited with them at the time of the aggression, argued that the girl had slanderously misrepresented the facts. Particularly, the defendant claimed that since the plaintiff was wearing a pair of tight blue jeans at the time of the alleged episode of sexual violence, it is not conceivable that he could have inserted his hands underneath her pants without her consent. The reasoning offered by the defense harkened back to the controversial decision number 1636/99 issued by the Supreme Court of Italy on February 10, 1999. In that decision, the Court overturned a previous rape conviction on the grounds that “it is nearly impossible to slip off tight jeans even partly without the active collaboration of the person who is wearing them,” thus assuming that sexual intercourse must have occurred consensually. The decision provoked outrage among female representatives of political forces differently aligned in the Italian Parliament and public opinion. On the day following the Supreme Court’s ruling, female politicians paraded in protest before the Italian parliament, wearing blue jeans and holding placards that read “Jeans: An Alibi for Rape.” This case analysis revisits the judicial developments of the “jeans defense” for rape in Italy until the recent Supreme Court decision of 2008, placing the Italian struggle in combating sexual violence against women within the larger context of European human rights law.


Reposted with permission. Original article is available online at