Femicide in Italy

A staircase in the small town of Corigliano Calabro’ in southern Italy was dotted Monday with pairs of shoes latched together with red ribbons.  They were there in protest, and in solidarity, following the “femicide” this week of 15-year-old Fabiana Luzzi.

“Femicide” in Italy is a topic I have avoided writing about for a simple, cowardly reason.  It frightens me.  I have two daughters, one 15 and one 13, and when I see stories of “femicide” in the newspapers, I turn the page, on the TV, I change the channel.  But this week one of my blog readers, Silvia Marelli, urged me to write about it to help raise awareness of this terrible phenomenon in Italy.

“Femicide”, for those like me who were not really sure what it means, is a term invented by Sociologist Diana Russell in 1992 and refers to the act of killing of a woman for motives related to her being female.

The details of Fabiana’s murder are grim.  Her boyfriend, 17-year-old Davide has confessed to taking her out of town to the ruins of an old farmhouse.  There he stabbed her in 20 places, without hitting any vital organs.  He left her there in agony. Two hours later he came back with a container of gas.  Fabiana was still alive and struggled to kick over the container and stop him.  He dragged her body into nearby woods, to avoid any smoke being seen from the highway, and then burnt her to death.  Friends say Davide was jealous and had beaten her black and blue in the past.  She had decided to end the relationship.

Italian Papers filled with articles on femicide in Italy. May 28, 2013, Photo by Trisha Thomas

Reading the papers over the following days, I gleaned some interesting details that placed Fabiana’s story within an Italian context.  On Monday when hundreds of people from the town, including teachers, friends, and shop-owners, marched in protest over her death, there was no member of the town council, there was no mayor.  The city government has been disbanded because of Mafia infiltration.  The local bishop was present though and visited the mourning family – sadly he lacked some tact and told Fabiana’s mother “Davide was also a victim” and spoke to her about forgiveness. It seems a stereotype of Italy with the omnipresence of the Mafia and the Catholic Church.

Fabiana’s brutal murder comes on top of a series of recent “femicides” that are shaking the conscience of Italians.”  Here are a few:  In April, 23-year-old Denise Morello was shot in the head in an underground parking lot by her ex-boyfriend, this month 30-year-old Alessandra Iacullo from Rome was killed by her ex-boyfriend, who repeatedly stabbed her in the neck after she broke up with him, and 27-year-old Chiara Di Vita was shot to death by her companion who then killed himself.

Scene from Italian Film "Open Doors" just before husband brutally rapes and murders his wife.

“Crimes of Passion” are certainly not unique to Italy, but the country does have a long tradition of them.  I remember as a young graduate student when my new Italian boyfriend and future husband took me to the Italian movie “Open Doors” (“Porte Aperte”) based on the book by Sicilian writer Leonardo Sciascia.  The film begins with a grizzly triple homicide, but what is most frightening is when the husband fiercely rapes his struggling wife before shooting her through the head. I was shocked by the brutality of this scene and it remained so clear in my mind that I went back to look at it before writing this post.

As I was writing this post, my colleague Paolo Santalucia pointed out to me that until 1981 Italy had a law in its penal code for “Crimes of Honor.”  The law is as follows:

Codice Penale, art. 587
 Chiunque cagiona la morte del coniuge, della figlia o della sorella, nell’atto in cui ne scopre la illegittima relazione carnale e nello stato d’ira determinato dall’offesa recata all’onor suo o della famiglia, è punito con la reclusione da tre a sette anni. Alla stessa pena soggiace chi, nelle dette circostanze, cagiona la morte della persona che sia in illegittima relazione carnale col coniuge, con la figlia o con la sorella.

Translated: “Whoever causes the death of a spouse, or of a daughter or of a sister, when he discovers an illegitimate carnal relation and in a state of rage caused by the offence to his honor or to the honor of the family, is punished with the imprisonment from 3 to 7 years. The same penalty is requested for those who, under the same circumstances, causes the death of the person who was found having the illegitimate relation with the spouse, daughter or sister.”

The above shows that there was a legal tradition in Italy of tolerance towards men who killed their wives, daughters or sisters in a jealous rage to protect their honor, in other words, a tolerance of femicide.  The law has changed but some of the behavior has not, apparently old habits die hard.

I received today a lengthy report from EU.RES — a group that does research on economic and social issues in Italy, and has new data on femicide in Italy that covers up to 2012.  The report noted that between 2000 and 2011 they counted 2,061 femicides in Italy with an average of 172 victims per year. 70.8% of the women were killed by family members and 79.7 percent of the femicides were committed at home.  Interestingly, the report divided the motives into categories that I find might overlap a bit, or in some cases it might be “all of the above”.  Nevertheless, here is their data:

1) 29.9 % of the femicides were for reasons of Passion and Possession,

2) 22.2% of the femicides were following a fight or disagreement

3) 14.5 % of the femicides were a result of mental disturbances in the killer

4) 9.2 % were the result of a raptus

I did not see any comparison to femicide in other countries, or any analysis of causes. But the EURES report is so in-depth it will be too hard for me to extract the details I need in a hurry.  So, for this post, I will quote the website “feriteamorte” (Blessed to death) which is working hard to combat “femicide” in Italy. (Note: the below quote was written before the release of today’s EURES report)

“In Italy, laws to protect victims of violence are in place, but these are not always applied effectively. And violence in the family is the most prevalent form of violence against women. Here too, the lack of data is a problem: the only information available comes from surveys conducted by ISTAT in 2006. According to this survey, 6,743,000 women aged 16 to 70 years have been victims of physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. 5 million women have suffered sexual violence, 3,961,000 physical violence.

About one million women have suffered rapes or attempted rapes. 14.3 percent of women in a current or previous relationship, have experienced at least one instance of physical or sexual violence by their partners and when only women with a former partner are considered, the percentage rises to 17.3 percent. In almost all cases the violence is not reported.

There is also no official data on femicide. From that which is available, an escalation of violence is highlighted, which has seen about 900 women killed from 2005 to the end of 2012.”   Credit: www.feriteamorte.it

Could the apparent increase in femicide in Italy be due to the economic crisis With unemployment in Italy at 11.5% and youth unemployment a startling 38%, are men more likely to attack their wives and girlfriends? I don’t know the answer to that question.

Italy is lucky to have Laura Boldrini the new President of Parliament who worked for over a decade as the spokeswoman for the UN’s High Commission for Refugees, and in her new role has promised to push for legislation to “stop the massacre.”

In her words, “by now it is almost a daily appointment.  Italian women nearly every day meet their death at the hands of bloody and uncontrollable men who cannot resign themselves to considering them people.  Violence dressed up as love.”

Boldrini has also lashed out against Italian culture that encourages certain chauvinist attitudes towards women.  She recently said, “Italy is plastered with posters of scantily clad, flirtatious women.  Everything is sold through women’s bodies. On television, the models are the housewife or the half-naked woman.  It is a short step from there to violence. If women become objects, the message is clear. You can do what you want to an object.”

I know another Italian woman who is dedicating her life to changing attitudes towards women in Italy.  Her name is Lorella Zanardo and in 2009 she produced a ground-breaking documentary “Il Corpo Delle Donne” (“Women’s Bodies”) accompanied by a book of the same name in which she tackled the question of the image of women in Italian TV.  At the time, Italian TV was brimming with nearly naked starlets often participating in vulgar dances and humiliating chit-chat with properly dressed male hosts. You can see the video translated into English at www.ilcorpodelledonne.net

Zanardo insists that “femicide” in Italy can only be beaten with a cultural change that starts with education in the schools and a change in the representation of women by the media.  Zanardo says the current representation in the mass media wither it is TV or advertising continues to be “humiliating and voyeuristic”.   Zanardo herself spends her time going to schools and meeting with young people to discuss these issues with them.  In a recent article Zanardo recounted a young girl at a school saying to her, “I don’t go out with my friends in the afternoon anymore.  My boyfriend is jealous, he doesn’t like it.”  Comments like that show the importance of the work Zanardo is doing.

Today the lower house of the Italian parliament unanimously approved the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women.  It is a start but it is too little and too late for 15-year-old Fabiana Luzzi.

Thank you to Chiara Carbone for providing me with files of statistics and important background information on his topic.

Trisha Thomas
Trisha is a TV journalist working for AP TV News in Rome. She is married to an Italian and is a Mamma of three.

33 Comments

  1. Silvia
    2013/05/29

    Thank you Trisha! ;) Silvia M.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/05/29

      Thank you Silvia, and please feel free to suggest blog posts to me in the future! I like getting suggestions.

      Reply
  2. Marla
    2013/05/29

    You have spoken with facts about some of the very troubling attitudes that I have been uncomfortable with since living in Italy. It is not something one can “like”, hardly, but one can stand and speak out. I agree that women are very much objectified in many commercials and advertisements here in Italy. Let us hope there there will be some change in the air, and not a moment too soon. Thank you for speaking out and for Fabiana.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/05/29

      Thank you Marla — I think most of the foreign women living here notice that the attitudes towards women are different here, but it is hard to point a finger and criticize. When I point out things I don’t like about Italy, I often have people turn on me and criticize something about the United States. I try to explain that it is my job to look with a critical eye and report as I would expect Italian journalists to do the same about the United States. Certainly, the US has plenty of horror stories to tell about women — just look at the recent case of the three women locked up in a house in Cleveland for a decade. The more light that is shed on all these horrible stories the better.

      Reply
  3. Ciao Chow Linda
    2013/05/29

    What horrific and nearly unspeakable crimes against women. An Italian friend of mine was just telling me about these all-too-frequent incidents in Italy a few days ago. I knew about similar horrors in India, but I had no idea it was this common in Italy. After reading about the brutal crime committed against Fabiana, I am aghast – and speechless. Thank you for bringing this topic to the forefront.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/05/29

      You shouldn’t thank me Linda, the thanks goes to my blog reader Silvia Marelli who pushed me to do this post. If she had urged me to do it, I would have shrunk away from it in horror. Now I am glad I did it.

      Reply
  4. TR Lansner
    2013/05/29

    Thank you for a highly topical and of course disturbing post. The “cultural traditions” that legitimize the femicide of “honor killings” must be observed to explain this dishonorable practice. Where deeply conservative religious hierarchies/patriarchies such as the Catholic Church or fundamentalist Islamists hold sway, women are automatically devalued. Combined with a clan structure and/or weak law enforcement, this is a recipe for impunity for various egregious crimes against society’s weakest: women, children, and the poorest among them even more.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/05/29

      Thank you Tom for your insightful comment, I get the impression that you know a lot about this topic and, given your experiences as a foreign correspondent, have observed femicide in many parts of the world.

      Reply
  5. Candace Demspey
    2013/05/29

    Trish, thank you so much for writing this brave story on femicide. It was very hard and, I’m sure, very hard to write. It needed to be said. Bravo.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/05/30

      Thank you Candace! Yes, it was indeed a tough topic to write about, but now that I have done it, I am satisfied and think I should continue to follow this issue.

      Reply
  6. Alan
    2013/05/29

    . . ‘honour’ crimes/murders here in Turkey are not exactly tolerated but they are excused and those in prison for them are treated with deference. Men, it seems, are entitled to dispose of their ‘chattels’ as they deem fit – it’s a sick attitude!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/05/30

      I agree Alan, it is “sick” and needs to be stopped whether it is in Italy, Turkey or anywhere else.

      Reply
  7. Nancy Rockwell
    2013/05/30

    Thank you for this chillingly wise post. Of course this happens here in the US as well. In fact, a case was just decided in Wayland MA, where a young man had savagely murdered his girl friend, who broke up with him because he was too controlling. And the Cleveland women who were sex slaves chained in the basement of a man’s house, only escaped this death by chance.
    I believe that the church has some blame in this, since it so unrelentingly portrays the image of the holy, good, woman as Mary the subservient, and the wicked, bad woman as Eve the one with a will of her own. The fantasy of the submissive woman recurs in hundreds of films, video games, books, and is linked with the fantasy of masculinity as in charge, knowing better, etc.
    There is so much education to be done, and it is so difficult to do when the images are linked with hormones, feelings, and righteousness.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/05/30

      Yes, Nancy you are absolutely right. There are plenty of similar and awful things that happen in the US and we need to expose these crimes and try to stop them wherever they are happening in the world. I wrote about femicides in Italy and the cultural context here – Mafia, patriarchal attitudes, media presentation of women, but there is a whole other context for violence against women in the US that leads to such horrors as the Cleveland story. I forgot to mention in my post that there is a new organization Chime for Change lead by Actress Salma Hayek, and Gucci fashion designer Frida Giannini that are organizing to combat abuse of women around the globe– a good cause to support.

      Reply
  8. Kathy
    2013/05/30

    This whole story was painful to read. I have a 17 year old son who plays football, grudgingly does his homework and who came home today and gave me one of his crushing bear hugs. I can’t for the life of me imagine him having this kind of hatred inside. What was going on with that young man that he could perpetrate such an utterly evil act while still – for the purposes of the law – being a child?

    And what of Fabiana’s parents? Where were they while their daughter was being ‘beaten black and blue’ at the tender age of just 15? Why didn’t they put a stop to this relationship – after all, she is in their care and a child.

    I think this story also speaks volumes about parenting of teenagers. As a teacher I see many parents who shrug and say to me ‘what can I do, he/she is out of control – I try to put my foot down but they just do what they want’. It’s a defeatist attitude and this hands-off parenting is having dire consequences. I can’t help but feel silently furious at Fabiana’s parents and their lack of protection of their daughter – who was obviously in trouble for a long time before her death.

    Thanks for having the courage to write about this, Trisha.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/05/31

      Thanks for this comment Kathy. I mentioned my daughters in the post, but I also have a teenage son who just turned 18. I have asked him several times to read this post because I think he needs to be aware of this too. He has not read it yet, but I will continue to insist. You are right about the parents. I had not thought too much about that. One of Fabiana’s friends said in an interview that Fabiana covered up with the bruises with makeup, but her friends knew. Her parents should have known too. It is interesting to hear your perspective as a teacher, and hear how parents can be defeatists. Some days I feel pretty defeatist with my own three adolescences, but I become a mamma grizzly if I think anyone is do anything that could hurt one of my children. I wonder why Fabiana’s parents did not have that instinct.

      Reply
  9. Jennifer
    2013/05/31

    An extremely moving, well written post. I didnt realise that italy had such a high rate of femicide, shocking.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/05/31

      Thank you Jennifer for your comment. It is shocking. I am going to hear a speech shortly by Laura Boldrini, the President of the Parliament (of Speaker of the House for Americans) and if I get a chance to ask a question I am going to ask her if she thinks it is linked to the economic crisis.

      Reply
  10. JWT
    2013/05/31

    Trisha, I really admire your doing this piece. I’m sure it was not easy and it is particularly troubling when you have two daughters / granddaughters entering into teen years. As one of your readers rightly points out crimes against women occur everywhere but are more heinous in societies where there is an absolutism. I couldn’t help thinking that Berlusconi as President using women the way he did certainly make “using” women more legitimate.
    Well done on a difficult and frightening topic.

    L/D

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/05/31

      Thanks Dad. You raise a really interesting point — the influence of the Berlusconi years. The Berlusconi “Prostitutuion with a Minor trial”, also known as the “Ruby Case” should close in early June. There is no doubt that Berlusconi’s attitudes and behavior towards women encouraged a destructive mentality in Italy.

      Reply
  11. JWT
    2013/05/31

    Couldn’t help thinking after I sent my comment above that while Berlusconi was a terrible model of how to treat women the influnence goes the other way as well, the Italian people elected and supported Berlusconi for many years. Our leaders are often a reflection of the society that elected them.

    L/D

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/06/01

      Very true. Interestingly, yesterday a prosecutor asked for 7 years prison sentences for three Berlusconi aides who have been on trial in a separate case for procuring prostitutes for Berlusconi. One of them, Lele Mora, was an agent who provided show-girls for TV programs, one was the director and anchorman on one of Berlusconi’s TV channels, Emilio Fede, and the third was a beautiful woman, Nicole Minetti who began as a show-girl, worked also as a dental hygieniest, and is now a politician in Berlusconi’s party and is a member of the Lombardy Regional Council. She organized the girls and briefed them before Berlusconi’s bunga-bunga parties and joined in the dancing. All three are an embarassment to Italy, but I find her particularly disgraceful– she has dragged herself and other women down with her.

      Reply
  12. Barbara Landi
    2013/06/01

    My god it’s almost as bad as Sharia law…I had no idea this goes on in Italy.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/06/01

      Well, not quite as bad as Sharia law, because it is not the law in Italy. The “Crimes of Honor” law was, fortunately. tossed out in 1981…the problem is the culture and tradition.

      Reply
  13. Octavia
    2013/06/01

    Very interesting article. This is a horrifying trend that is happening world wide, not just something that’s going on in 3rd world countries like the media wants to portray. I just wanted to bring to your attention that the link you have in your article http://www.ilcorpodelledonne.com seems to be broken. Ironically it is linking to a site that redirects to a bunch of violent pornography :(

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/06/01

      Octavia — thank you for pointing out my mistake. I have fixed it on the post. The correct website is http://www.ilcorpodelledonne.net — how horrible and disgusting but also telling that a simple error can lead to violent pornography. Sigh.
      And I agree that the media – including me- has not done a good enough job portraying this worldwide trend. It was an Italian blog reader who asked me to do this post and I am so glad she did. It was a real wake-up call.

      Reply
  14. Whitney
    2013/08/20

    Trisha, this was a heartbreaking read, but much needed. I’m married to an Italian and living in Italy and have risked much of my sanity and energy, in order to attain a type of “adjustment” or “tolerance” of Italian ideals of women and femininity in general. I appreciate this so much and understand your reluctance and avoidance of such a grisly subject that lies beneath the naughty images of “velina” and the Italian mamma who is always taking care of everything. I was considering writing a post very similar and in doing some research came across your post. Thank you again. Nothing can rupture this vile cultural idea except awareness and action.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/08/25

      Thank you Whitney for your comment. I wrote this post this spring and then there has been a series of femicides this summer and it is just unbearable. When will it stop? Definitely do write a post on it, we all need to talk about it.

      Reply
  15. Ew
    2014/09/13

    It’s a massive problem. I read an article today where someone quoted these statistics. To my shame I was never aware. However having visited south italy for over 12 years and having family there this does not surprise me in the slightest. I find the gender bias and oftentimes repression of women very very depressing. Most women are financially dependent on men and have no income. It’s virtually impossible to leave an abusive relationship and in addition they will be surrounded by family that excuse, minimize or tell them to ‘put up with it’. My once very naive view of italy has changed irrevocably in recent years. Very depressing.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2014/09/18

      I agree, it is totally depressing and I hope things are changing.

      Reply
  16. Vanessa
    2017/02/16

    Trisha, I’m studying abroad here in Rome this quarter and came across your blog after looking into femicide in Italy. I also recall you had mentioned the name of your blog at a “Trump Roundtable Discussion” at the ACCENT Center last month. Anyway, this post is heartbreaking and it reminded me of the awful, disturbing comments Trump has made in the past about women. I’m afraid for America these upcoming years after learning that Berlusconi had such a strong influence on Italian society and impact through media. I’m hoping the same doesn’t occur in America to this extremity of femicide. In spite of it all, as a Film and Digital Media major at UC Santa Cruz, I’m also hoping I can use the power of media as a tool to raise awareness of such issues just as you do in your blog and through working for the Associated Press. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2017/02/17

      Vanessa, thank you for your comment. I am surprised and please you found that femicide post — I wrote it back in 2013, but I am glad it still comes up when people look for information on the topic in Italy. Strangely, I just pulled the post back up today in the office to remind myself of some of the material. We are starting to work on a story on femicide in Italy but with a focus on how women are starting to come out and speak about what happened to them — including some terrible cases where women had acid thrown on their faces by violent, jealous husbands and boyfriends. It is all shocking and appalling but these stories definitely need to be told. Berlusconi’s attitudes towards women did a lot of damage and I hope Trump’s attitudes do not have a similar effect.

      Reply
  17. Mozzarella Mamma Lucia's Battle - Mozzarella Mamma
    2017/03/08

    […] first wrote about violence against women in Italy in this blog in 2013 (see blog post “Femicide In Italy”) after the brutal killing of 15-year-old Fabiana Luzzi in Calabria. Luzzi’s former boyfriend […]

    Reply

Leave a Reply