Truth is, the legislation changed only in 1996. Too late to save many women, but perhaps soon enough to help others.
Unfortunately, rape in Italy has always been about victim blaming. Women fight against stereotypes and obsolete laws. Perhaps it’s time to raise our voices to improve reality.
The story of Franca Viola
This 70–year old is an example for women’s emancipation. While now she receives applauses, her path hasn’t been always easy to walk. She was born in Sicily, from an humble of family of farmers. Franca was engaged, but the engagement fell through when the boyfriend (Melodia) got arrested fo robbery and mafia affiliations.
However, Melodia didn’t stay in prison for long. When he got out, he kidnapped and a group of his friends kidnapped Franca and her younger brother. The boy was let go pretty soon. In 1966, Melodia’s family Franca’s to find an agreement on the wedding. Indeed, they were asking her to marry her rapist. Her family faked an agreement, asking help to the police. When officers found out where Franca was, they broke into the house. She was free and Melodia was back in jail.
What happened after
The public attorney asked for a sentence of 22, while the defense tried to blame Franca. According to them, the kidnapping was consensual, more like a “love getaway.” Since the two had sexual relationships before the fact, the defense had a good hand to play. Plus, they used the law that made marriage easier for couples without the parental consent.
In the end, Melodia received an 11-year sentence. And he was killed in 1978, two years after finishing his sentence. In 1968, Franca married, happily. However, her story is unique because she didn’t just refuse a marriage. She refused a shotgun wedding.
From shotgun weddings to the current regulations
Until 1981, the penal code included the article 544 about rape in Italy. Up until 1996, the code considered the crime as one against “public morality and good customs.” Hence, the next article, the 530. This one stated that a wedding between the people involved erased the sentence and the crime altogether.
Indeed, a true shotgun wedding. If the rapist married his victim, everything would be forgotten. This particular rule changed in 1981, while the language of code 544 didn’t change until 1996. So, what happened after?
The current laws on rape in Italy
First, rape is a crime against a person, not the whole of society. And it includes two types of violence: the one by compulsion and the violence by influence. Plus, the final decision is based on consent, which can be a blurry and difficult to verify concept.
The two Italian codes
The code 609-bis punishes crimes that include violence and threats to force sexual acts on the person. The perpetrator exploits the inferior physical and mental conditions of the person during the fact. Or by tricking the victim by convincing her that she will have sex with someone she wants. But then, the rapist enters the scene.
On the other hand, the code 609-ter considers any aggravating factor, making the sentence harsher. For example, the presence of alcohol is an aggravating factor. If found guilty, the rapist faces up to 12 years in prison. For any aggravating factors, it can be up to 24 years.
But the judge can also consider the sexual abuse “lighter” and thus give a smaller sentence -minimum of two years. Or the sentence can be extinguished, after five years of good conduct.
Indeed, the margins are huge and the final word is up to the judge. More like a personal decision than one based on laws. While shotgun weddings have been abolished, the word “consent” is still too unclear. And victim blaming is still widespread, like the story of the son of politician Grillo proves. It seems like violence against women is up to interpretation. And too often it’s a man doing the interpreting.
If you want to take action in the cause for violence against women, you can check out the United Nations Trust Fund here.