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