The Price of Virginity

An Italian court has found that a man who sexually abused his 14-year-old stepdaughter should receive a lighter sentence because the girl was not a virgin — and, therefore, the damage to her was not as significant as it would have been otherwise. The price of virginity is a subject that has received much attention over the centuries (the Talmud, for instance, is full of such discussions), but I have never seen it addressed so directly in a contemporary court setting.

Even if you agree with the Italian court, it’s pretty obvious that by making such a controversial ruling, and thereby drawing so much more attention to the case, the court has sentenced to the girl to several years’ worth of additional unwanted scrutiny.

Here’s a link to a article; thanks to Bill Griffiths for the tip.


Reminiscent of their ruling in '99 that a woman wearing jeans couldn't be raped so she must have consented to sex:


Really cool paper by Daniel Chen on this topic:


Wow, Chen's course on the Economics of Fundamentalism looks awesome!
Gotta check out the books on his reading list...


How ridiculous. Just another example of how Italian society is out of step with much of the developed world.

Its like saying that if you stole a car you should receive a lesser sentence if that car has been stolen before.

Except of course, the Italian courts respect property more so than they do women.


Lena Edlund at Columbia University has done some fascinating work on a variety of topics at the intersection of women's issues and microeconomics. "A Theory of Prostitution," co-written with Evelyn Korn and published in the Journal of Political Economy, might be one of the most intriguing of the bunch.

You can find her work at


This ruling would make sense if it was a civil suit but as a criminal ruling it makes no sense unless you assume that as a non-virgin she brought it on herself as the court apparently does.


Allow me to advocate for the devil.

First of all, obviously, all sexual abuse is a serious crime, and should be punished accordingly.

Second, many would agree that some sexual abuse is especially serious. Some victims are especially vulnerable. Some victims are likely to be more severely damaged by sexual abuse. It could be reasonable for the law to give out more serious punishments to offenders who sexually abuse more vulnerable victims (like children).

Finally, we consider what factors make a sexual abuse more serious. When is a victim more vulnerable to sexual abuse? Answers are open to discussion, obviously, but here are a couple of plausible candidates. First of all: age. Younger people are more vulnerable. Various sorts of psychological and physical maturity are probably important here, not just chronological age. Second: relationship experience. A person who has already had fulfilling long-term sexual relationships is likely to be more resilient after experiencing sexual abuse than someone whose first sexual experience was the abuse. This resiliency effect may extend, at least partially, to those who have had any sexual experience, not just fulfilling long-term romantic relationships.

Calling the girl's lack of virginity a "mitigating factor" is a bizarre and perhaps offensive way to phrase this argument, and I don't know if this framing comes from the Italian court or from one of the filters between them and us. Sexual abuse is sexual abuse, and I don't see how anything could mitigate that. The argument, rather, is that the girl's non-virginity suggests that a potentially aggravating factor (namely, an especially vulnerable victim) was not as strongly present as it might otherwise have seemed (based on facts like her age of 14). So, the court's decision to treat the fact that the girl was not a virgin as something relevant to their sentencing decision, as a factor pointing in the direction of a lighter sentence, is not necessarily absurd or offensive.



Being Italian and quite embarassed by the unwanted attention we have drawn, I can tell you that, at least, the "Corte di Cassazione" (the highest level court in Italy) has (unofficialy) declared that this sentence will never be set as an example for future pronouncements and will be "buried in the basement".
Apparently the pronouncement has to be interpreted as very specific; the girl, victim of the abuse, knowing her stepfather had problems with drugs, offered him oral sex instead of a complete sexual intercourse because she considered it less dangerous according to her experience (and here is where her not being virgin comes in for the first time). Also, the fact that apparently she had already had various relations, also with other 40-year-old men, and the fact that she somehow managed to "control the rape" made the court think that, despite her young age, she was not that especially vulnerable victim that young boys and girls usually are (with respect to this, I think they might have said that there was not the aggravating factor of an especially vulnerable victim, rather than talking about a "mitigating factor" for her non-virginity: it would have probably caused less of a scandal). Moreover, apparently the man was sentenced for multiple abuses, while it happened only once. That's why the sentence was reputed unfair and sent back to the (I think) appeal court.
I do not know whether the sentence is fair or not, if it makes sense or not, but I do think that the newspapers preferred to report what was obviously going to create the big scandal, the big news, rather than reporting the whole story, trying to critically understand why the sentence was made.
The worst side of the story, I think, is that the girl is soon going to move back to her mum's house, where she will meet the raper/stefather... perhaps the court should have ruled on this aspect too.

However, being a crazy country where candidates for the next elections campaign on how to increase public expenditure, forgetting that we already have a public debt to gdp ratio of 107% and a budget deficit to gdp ratio higher than 4% (when Euro rules would require values of 60% and 3% respectively), everything can happen...
(...but we still are the best country for your holydays, during both summer and winter!)



You chose an interesting link to the Talmud. It is on a website run by a crack-pot group that believes standard antisemitic crap about Jews running the US government and being responsible for 9/11. This link is made clear if you read the copyright statement on the come-and-hear website.


I do agree that it may be appropriate for the law to give out more serious sentences for acts of sexual abuse against those who are more vulnerable. However, the point that is being missed is that this is a 14 year old girl. While the age of adulthood varies by culture, I don't think it is a leap to say that any sexual activity or involvement between a 14 year old and a 40 year old is abuse, regardless of whether or not the 14 year old meant to consent. We have laws to protect them precisely because they CAN NOT consent. Previous sexual experiences are not mitigating factors, they are only examples of previous sexual abuse.

The argument that a person with meaningfull sexual experiences who is then abused is less damaged than someone who's first experience misses the fact that a 14 year old does not have meaningfull sexual experiences. All experiences at that age are abusive.

To borrow from lobes, this is like saying that it may be less of a crime to mug someone who has been mugged before, because the second time it is less tramatic.

If you accept that the previous interactions with her 40 year old father were abusive as well, that it is absurd and offensive to consider her viginity in the sentencing.



I wanted to poke fun at this... and I did (to myself)... but it is really shameful.

It is disastrously irrational for young women in Italy.

If one particular European country makes it easy on sexual predators... then predators will flock to that country.

DonXml's Grok This

The Freakonomics Affect and Toll Roads


Daniel Chen in his paper above cites Rhodes(1999) where a man who raped a retarded woman got a lesser sentence because the woman had been raped before. He says, "the court assumed that the impact of the assault was considerably less severere"


What if all cases of rape in the world involved a non-virgin and had recieved a sentence of 10 years. Then all of a sudden comes a case in which the victim is a virgin and the judge rules that it made the case much worst and rules a sentence of 15 years. Would that be seen as something bad?


I wrote a paper, How Bad is Rape when I was very young and foolish suggesting that we regard rape as an ultra-serious crime because, rightly or wrongly, we assume that sexual purity is women's most important investment--like the cowboy's horse, his most valuable asset without with he can't make a living. I suggested that regarding rape as ultra-serious was demeaning to women to the extent that it assumed women had no other significant human capital (in the course of arguing that being a data-entry operator was much more harmful to a woman than being raped). How's that for a freaky thesis?


This is a very serious thread but I could'nt help posting this since in was so germane to the post.

BRAY, Okla. - A man has caused an uproar in this southwestern Oklahoma town by advertising in an unusual manner that he'd like to pay for a virgin to be his bride.

A sign that 45-year-old Michael Thelemann posted in his yard Sunday said that he'll pay $1,000 for a virgin bride between the ages of 12 and 24.

"I feel like I'm living down the street from a pedophile," said neighbor Christy Sternadel. "We want him out of this neighborhood. Who asks for a 12-year-old virgin bride?"

At the bid price I don't think he will get any serious offers.


This sound similar to blaming the victim in a way. They are saying that because of her past conduct the rapist is not as responsible and thus does not deserve a punishment equal to the real crime.


Reminiscent of their ruling in '99 that a woman wearing jeans couldn't be raped so she must have consented to sex:


Really cool paper by Daniel Chen on this topic:


Wow, Chen's course on the Economics of Fundamentalism looks awesome!
Gotta check out the books on his reading list...