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Violence against women in Italy

Violence against women and gender-related killing on the rise in Italy

On the 23rd of November, Italians joined en mass a series of events organized by the radical feminist collective Non Una di Meno.

 In Rome,  about 100,000 people participated, to rise attention on gender-related violence and crimes against women. The marches had been organized to celebrate the UN international day to fight violence against women, which has been taking place on the 25th of November since 1999.

Never as in the past 5 to 10 years, Italy has witnessed such a high amount of generalized violence against women: from stalking to harassment, from rape to murder, it seems women in Italy are at risk on a daily basis. 

Violence against women: an international negative trend

However, stating that this is a typically Italian phenomenon would be wrong. Data presented in a recent article by L’Internazionale‘s journalist Giulia Testa highlight we are facing a worldwide negative trend. 

While the vast majority of murder victims are men, women are at higher risk of being killed by someone they know. Indeed,  a 2017 UN study reports that 58% of women murders were carried out by a partner, a former partner or a family member. Currently, there are 137 femicides a day in the world, with Asia being the area with the highest ratio.

 Italy and women killings 

March for Elimination of Violence Against Women in Rome , Italy 2018

Italian data tell us that, in 2017, 123 women were killed voluntarily. However, what’s more thought-provoking is the percentage murdered by someone they knew, which reached 80,5%, a whole 22,5% more than the world average. In more detail, 43,9% were killed by a partner or former partner, 28,5% by a family member and 8,1% by someone else they  knew.

Male killing are diminishing but female killings remain constant

Male murders in Italy are 234 every year, mostly committed by people unknown to them, and they are often related to criminal activity. To be fair to our police and Carabinieri forces, they have sensibly decreased in the past years. 

The same, however, cannot be said about femicides. While lower than those of men, their number remains constant. L’Internazionale gives some more eye-opening detail: in the 1990s, the male-female murder ratio was 5 to 1, while today is 2 to 1. Basically, while male murder victims have been halved, especially thanks to the reduction of street and organized crime in the country, the number of women remained constant. Last but not least, violence against women does not take exclusively the extreme shape of murder. The 31,5% of Italian women aged between 16 and 70 — that’s almost 7 million women — has been victim of some forms of physical or sexual violence. 

Is Italy doing enough to fight violence against women? 

Sign to Stop killing of women

This is the million dollar question. Let’s start with some data.

The Italian Institute of Statistics, ISTAT, reported that 43,467 women sought support in anti-violence centers in 2017. Now, according to the Istanbul Convention, the document signed by European countries to guarantee protection to women against violence, anti-violence centers should be properly disseminated on the territory, with one every 10,000 people. In Italy, the ratio is of 0.05 every 10,000 people.

Insufficient support? At least in part, yes, but it would be wrong not to consider the many initiatives, albeit mostly symbolic, that have been taking place around the country to rise awareness.

More than anything, it would be wrong not to consider the very recent changes brought to relevant legislation to better protect women in danger and to ensure perpetrators are swiftly brought to justice.

The Codice Rosso law

The Codice Rosso (code red) law was enforced in August 2019, with the aim of providing immediate protection to women reporting cases of violence and stalking from partners of family members.

It is now law enforcement duty to immediately respond to reports and to make sure cases are immediately followed up, so that perpetrators are quickly investigated and apprehended. Devices — such as electronic ankle bracelets — can be now used to locate people notified with a restraining order.

A series of new crimes, including dissemination of private videos and photos with the intent of harmin, and coercion to marriage (which has become an issue within some foreign communities in Italy), have been added.

In spite of this, however, women killings and gendered violence have not diminished, with new cases being mentioned in the news almost on a daily basis. 

Gendered violence: Italy vs US

To better portray and contextualize the magnitude of the issue, let’s compare data with the US. The National Domestic Violence Hotline states that, in the US, 24 people are victims of a form of abuse from a partner or family member each minute.

29% of women have suffered a form of violence, including rape, stalking or physical battery: this translates into a ratio of 1 every 3 women in America. Almost half of American women, statistics continue, have experienced psychological abuse from a partner or family member. 

Around 1200 women are murdered every year in the US, three every day: among them, 1/3 is killed by a partner or family member. 

While the last set of data about murder cannot be really compared in name of the different size of the two countries, those collected by the National Domestic Violence Hotline are of some interest: with an average of 31.5% against 29%, Italy has, in fact, a higher percentage of women victim of abuse and violence than the United States.

While the difference is small, it is thought provoking. 

Violence against women escalating both in Italy and Internationally

The issue is real, data confirm it. 

Then it is frightening to think that Italy is, in fact, the third last EU countries when it comes to the number of femicides: in spite of our numbers, most European countries have been fairing worse. Escalating violence against women is a fact, in Italy as in all other European countries, yet, specific statistic research on it lacks in most of the EU nations. 

In 2014, The Istanbul Convention  on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic  violence was ratified, with most EU countries becoming  parties. However, 10 of them, including the UK, have yet to sign it. 

The deeper meaning of data

Data may appear cold, but they tell us about a narrative. A narrative that has been developing in every corner of the world, really, and that sees women — of all ages, race, religion and social status — being a target. 

In the morning, when you stop at your local caffé for breakfast, you may hear people commenting on the latest gendered killing mentioned in the paper saying “it’s always happened, just not we pay more attention to it.”

But do we? Yes and no. Of course, gender-oriented violence has always existed, in Italy as everywhere else in the world. Cultural, moral and political development, however, should have led society away from a form of abuse rooted profoundly in the most negative sides of patriarchy, which would see women as property, as exchangeable goods and as unable to self assert their will and desires. 

While it seemed all this had been left in the past, the news are here to remind us this is far from being the case: we are still a country that objectifies women grossly — on the media, for instance — and where the glass ceiling is well and strongly in place, still.

If anything, it seems that the very attitude of young men towards women has been worsening, if compared to that of their fathers and grandfathers: in a reality where face to face, direct contact has been largely substituted with online interaction, boys are no longer able to handle relationships, while girls are unable to set proper boundaries to what is or isn’t allowed. 

Is there an answer, a way to improve the current status quo of things? Certainly: a well functioning legal system, the support of law enforcement and, probably most importantly in the long run, a change of attitude towards intimate, interpersonal relationships, could all help.

These are all achievable aims, but the last — the most important — will take a long time to be reached. 

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