Italy's highest court ruled Friday that a man who raped the 14-year-old daughter of his girlfriend can seek to have his sentenced reduced because the girl was sexually active, news reports said.

The ruling provoked an outcry across Italy, was condemned by UNICEF and prompted other justices on the court to issue a statement saying the ruling was wrong and in the future would be cited as a bad example of a high court decision, the ANSA news agency reported.

The case goes back to 2001, when a court in Sardinia convicted Marco T. of sexual violence and threats against the 14-year-old daughter of his live-in girlfriend and sentenced him to more than three years in prison, ANSA said.

He requested a reduced sentence, saying the crime was less serious because the girl had already had several sexual partners.

His request was rejected, but Italy's high court said the judges should re-evaluate the decision because the girl "since the age of 13 had had many sexual relations with men of every age."

"And it's right to assume," the ruling went on, according to ANSA, "that at the time of the encounter with the suspect her personality, from a sexual point of view, was much more developed than what one might normally expect from a girl of her age."

The suspect's lawyer, Andrea Biccheddu, defended the ruling, saying the episode between his client and the girl "didn't provoke any trauma," because the girl had had so many sexual partners.

He said his client deserved to have his sentence reduced by two thirds, the agency said.