The New York Times reports today that the long-cherished right of Italian men to grope freely, already under siege, has been further limited by an Italian Supreme Court decision. The ruling, which appears to have been issued recently although the NYT did not provide a date (or citation), affirmed a man's 2006 conviction on public-indecency charges; specifically, for "ostentatiously touching his genitals through his clothing."
The ruling thus rejected the defense lawyer's contention that his client simply "had a problem with his overalls."
It is not clear from the disappointingly brief NYT report what actually prompted the ostentatious self-gropery, though we know it wasn't defective overalls. It seems to have been a response to some sort of sign believed to be bad luck, like a passing hearse, because the report says that the opinion "struck against a broader practice: a tradition among some Italian men of warding off bad luck by grabbing [one's own] crotch."
This, the court stated, "has to be regarded as an act contrary to public decency, a concept including that nexus of socio-ethical behavioral rules requiring everyone to abstain from conduct potentially offensive to collectively held feelings of decorum." (I assume that sounds a lot better in the original Italian.) As a result, Italian men will now either have to find another way to ward off bad luck, or do their warding in private.
In 2005, the Italian high court, which clearly chooses to intervene only in the most important issues of the day, upheld the assault conviction of a 40-year-old man who pinched a woman's buttocks as she used a public phone. (Women who have visited Italy may be familiar with this charming custom, by which Italian men communicate that they would like to become better acquainted with you, or at least your buttocks.) The man received a 14-month prison sentence (suspended) for the assault. Italian newspapers called the result "severe," and the defendant said he had become disillusioned. "I don't believe in justice anymore," he said.
It is unclear whether there are further cases in the pipeline that may further restrict the groping rights of Italian men.