Dear Blog Readers,
I have been working with my AP wire colleague Fran D’Emilio on a story on women fighting back against violence in Italy that went out this morning as part of the AP’s many stories for International Women’s Day. Fran wrote an excellent story (see link here: Scarred Survivors) – I handled the TV side—but I wanted to share with you a few behind-the-scenes thoughts of my own and details that could not make it into our stories. The centerpiece of our story is the courageous Lucia Annibali.
Lucia Annibali came to our office early one evening for the interview wearing a zebra-striped black and white coat. As she sat down at the table across from Fran and me, she said that the lights bothered her and towards the end of the day the skin on her face felt as though it was pulled too tight. Despite the discomfort, she was ready to go ahead. She wanted to talk. She pushed her hair back behind her shoulder, revealing more of her scarred face, smiled tentatively and started answering questions.
Back in 2013 Lucia’s former boyfriend hired two men to attack her, throwing acid on her face, burning all her skin and leaving her temporarily blind. She remained in the hospital for months and underwent 18 operations as doctors tried to reconstruct her face. To do that, they had to take strips of skin off her inner thighs and graft them on to her cheeks, chin and forehead. Looking at her, you can see they did an outstanding job. They had to create new eyelids, her nose had to be re-formed as did her mouth. She says that it is not that easy to smile, and yet she does.
Lucia does not hide from the spotlight. Since she left the hospital she has dedicated her time to talking with women, girls, students in high schools and universities. She urges women and girls to act before it is too late. She has written a book, appeared on the covers of magazines and a telefilm has been made about her. Slowly but surely, this delicate, soft-spoken woman is leading the charge in the battle by raising awareness about a problem with deep roots in Italy.
A quick glance around at the news is enough to make anyone realize there is a lot to be done. Last week in Iglesias, Sardinia police arrested a man who admitted to stabbing his wife to death while their three children were closed in another room. She wanted a separation and had accused him in the past of beating her. He is now in jail awaiting trial.
In Rimini, Italy, 28-year-old Jessica Notaro, a dolphin trainer, has just returned home after weeks in the hospital following an acid attack. Doctor’s are trying to save her sight too. Her story is similar to Lucia Anniballi’s – a rejected boyfriend, a barbarous revenge. Jessica’s former boyfriend has been arrested. Jessica posted the below photo on Facebook from the hospital.
Fran and I went with AP cameraman Paolo Lucariello to the police headquarters on the outskirts of Rome for a lengthy interview with police chief Maria Carla Bocchino who gave us a series of statistics on violence against women in Italy that, while showing signs of improvement, are still chilling.
I will just translate below:
“Every three and half days on average there is the homicide of a woman in a family environment or at least a personal relationship, while every day on average we register the following acts against women: 23 acts of persecution, 28 acts of abuse, 16 episodes of beating, 9 of sexual violence.”
–Homicides of women in the family environment have dropped in the past three years:
117 nel 2014, 111 nel 2015, 108 nel 2016;
–Abuse in families, with 81% of it being against women, have been registered as the following:
13,261 cases in 2014, 12,890 cases in 2015, 12,829 cases in 2016
–Beatings, with 46% of women being the victims, have been registered as the following:
15,285 cases in 2014, 15,259 cases in 2015, 13,146 cases in 2016
–Sexual Violence, with 90% of the victims being women, have been registered as the following:
4,257 cases in 2014, 4,000 cases in 2015, 3,759 cases in 2016
Bocchino said they are working hard to educate young women in Italy about domestic violence, speaking in schools and setting up police camper-vans around Italy where women can seek help. She emphasized the importance of acting before it is too late.
“The last meeting is always the most dangerous one, and it is the one that we advise the victims when they come to us in our office not to answer, to let it go, to advise us, to advise the centers against violence. It is the fatal appointment.”
I 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 took her to a farmhouse, stabbed her 24 times and left her in agony while he went to get a container of gasoline. He then dragged her into the woods and set her on fire. Luzzi’s former boyfriend is now serving an 18-year prison sentence for her murder.
This murder happened in the Calabria region of Italy where some of Italy’s patriarchal attitudes are still deeply embedded. Fran and I spoke to a brilliant professor from the University of Calabria who is an expert on the topic of violence against women. My favorite quote from her was way too long to put either in the wire or TV story, but I can stick it all in the blog. This is what Professor Franca Garreffa had to say on the topic:
“Italy has always been conditioned by patriarchal models that have influenced both women and men. Men have always been used to dominating both in the family and in the society. The moment in which women today have learned to react to abuse of any nature, even psychological abuse, the men find themselves unprepared. In the past, all they needed was to look at a woman in a certain way, or maybe just give her a slap, but today that is not enough to get a woman to obey. So, the man has to increase the level of violence and he moves it up to beating. And once you get to physical violence, it becomes a routine part of the couple’s relationship. Then when the woman makes the important decision to leave, to leave her husband, to abandon her family, well that is when the violence becomes uncontrollable, and it is often considered an act of impetus, but it is not, it is a progression of physical violence that leads to homicide.”
Garreffa said the above to us two days before the killing in Iglesias, Sardinia last week. She clearly knows a few things about the patterns that develop.
Lucia Annibali told Fran and me that she has her own view about women like herself who end up in these dangerous relationships. She does not see these women as feeble. She sees them as women who are strong and unselfish. In her words,
“Women who find themselves in relationships of this kind are, in reality, not women who are weak or fragile. It is just the opposite – they are women who are so strong and so generous that they manage to remain in these situations, but in reality, they must learn to be more selfish.”
In an interview shortly after leaving the hospital, Lucia said something directed at her ex that she also quoted in her book, it is worth repeating here:
“I want to tell you that in the end you will not have won, I arise because I am strong and I will go very far, you will stay forever behind.”
Lucia’s ex-boyfriend is serving out a 20-year prison sentence. Lucia was given a position by former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi as a legal adviser in the Ministry of Equal Opportunity. From that office she continues her battle.
Please read Fran D’Emilio’s story for AP. You can find it on this link: Scarred Survivors