WASHINGTON — Italy’s highest court overturned a decision that a woman was too ‘‘masculine’’ to be raped, in a turn of events that activists hope will bring about a change in attitudes toward sexual violence and its victims in Italy.

Last month, protesters took to the streets outside the appeals court in Ancona, a city on Italy’s Adriatic Coast, after it was revealed why a panel of three female judges had acquitted two men accused of rape in 2017. The protesters took issue with the jurists’ reasoning: The judges reached their decision to acquit in part because they agreed with the defense’s argument that the victim looked too masculine for the men to have been attracted to her.


The woman reported that she was attacked in 2015. Doctors said her injuries were consistent with rape, and her lawyer’s claim that her drinks had been spiked at a bar after an evening class was seemingly supported by the fact that her blood showed a high level of benzodiazepines, a type of tranquilizer. The men were convicted in 2016.

But the appeals court in 2017 overturned that conviction, arguing that it was possible that the woman had ‘‘organized’’ the gathering in which she said she was drugged and raped.

The woman returned to her native Peru, but her lawyer, Cinzia Molinaro, who called the judges’ reasoning ‘‘disgusting,’’ filed an appeal.

On Tuesday, Italy’s Supreme Court overturned the acquittals, noting that the appearance of a rape victim is ‘‘wholly irrelevant’’ and a ‘‘nondecisive’’ factor in assessing a rape allegation.

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