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Groping charges dropped because prosecutors say alleged victim was ‘too old’ to be sexually harassed

Elisabetta Cortani, the president of the Lazio women's soccer team. (Twitter)

A sexual harassment case has been dismissed by Italian prosecutors after they reportedly decided that the alleged victim, a 53-year-old woman, was “too old to be scared” of the man accused of the workplace misconduct. Prosecutors in Rome dropped the charges against Carlo Tavecchio, the former head of the country’s soccer federation, reports revealed this week. Elisabetta Cortani, the president of the Lazio women’s soccer team, accused him of groping her during a business meeting. According reports, the prosecutors believe she was “too old” to have been intimidated by the alleged misconduct and waited too long — beyond six months — to come forward with her allegations.

The decision to drop the charges, which happened about three weeks ago, but only came to light this week, was made despite the fact that there is video evidence of Tavecchio apparently trying to grope Cortani in his office.

Her lawyer, Domenico Mariani, confirmed the outcome. “Unfortunately, that’s what happened,” he told The New York Times. He added that in their motion to dismiss the case, prosecutors said the charges were “incompatible” with the accusations because of Cortani’s age at the time of the incident.

Last November, Cortani, a mother of two, filed an official complaint accusing Tavecchio of having fondled her breasts and during a 2015 business meeting at his office. She said the fondling came after he complimented her physical appearance and was followed by an attempt to kiss her. She quickly left the room, but stayed silent about the encounter for more than two years. Cortani was 49 years old at the time of the alleged incident. Tavecchio has denied any wrongdoing.

Former Italian Football Federation (FIGC) President Carlo Tavecchio looks on during a news conference held after his official resignation during a crisis meeting of the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) in Rome on November 20, 2017. (ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images)

A year later, Cortani was set to return to Tavecchio’s office on official business. But before going, she asked the advice of some police officers with whom she was acquainted about how one might obtain evidence against a sexual harasser in a professional setting. They advised carrying a hidden camera into the meeting. So, Cortina wore a pair of glasses that hung around her neck and were outfitted with a mini camera when she went to the meeting, which was about her team’s registration in an upcoming tournament.

Just after the meeting began, the hidden camera recorded Tavecchio making vulgar comments and asking her how much sex she’d been having. He was then seen pushing her onto a couch in his office and forcibly kissing her. But suddenly, as he began to grope her breasts, the video cut out. “Touching her breasts,” Mariani, Cortani’s lawyer, said, “he shut off the camera.” The video portion of the camera was disabled, but it continued recording audio.

Cortani’s lawyer is appealing the decision on the grounds that Tavecchio, given his connection to the National Olympic Committee, is not merely a private citizen, but a public official. Italian law allows a six-year window for sexual harassment allegations against a public official to be reported. Cortani, not surprisingly, is furious about the dismissal of the case.

“Maybe I am old for them,” Cortani told the Times. “But I can assure you that I felt in a position of subordination, I felt afraid. Because being in that room meant being in the heart of Italian soccer. And in that room, subordination and fear have no age.”

She added that she has no plans to give up the fight for justice. “Italian women have to fight, and not be afraid to press charges because it is always worth it,” Cortani said. “It doesn’t matter if you are believed or not, but we must begin to demand respect. Italy has to develop in its culture.”

Read the full story at The New York Times and The Guardian.

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