Critical Analysis: Italy Responding to Domestic Abuse

Earlier this month Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta announced new harsh measures to respond to the persistent problem of domestic violence.  He calls this problem “femicide” which is the “killing of women because they are women, often at the hands of current or former husbands or boyfriends.”  The new measures, which are effective immediately, set stricter penalties for perpetrators of these types of crimes and expands the protection for women.  Prime Minister Letta said that the 12-point decree was “a sign of radical change on the issue” and he felt it was necessary to send a strong signal of change through the country.

Women in Italy
A rise in acid attacks prompted demonstrations in Italy (Antonio Calanni/AP)

Recently, Italy has been making headlines regarding violence against women, primarily women who are murdered or attacked by current or past significant others.  The United Nations has flagged this as a problem in Italy where gender stereotypes are deeply rooted and a third of all women face sexual or physical abuse in their lifetimes.  Last year, the United Nations special rapporteur on violence against women, Rashida Manjoo, said that Italy’s laws were fragmented, provided inadequate sanctions, lacked aid for victims, and that trials took too long and then failed due to Italy’s statute of limitations.  Manjoo wrote that,  “These factors contribute to the silencing and invisibility surrounding violence against women, its causes and consequences.

Various reports by European agencies and the United Nations underscore the failure of Italy to protect women from their current and past partners.  There are few shelters for battered women to go.  The Council of Europe advises that a country should have one shelter spot for women and children for every 10,000 residents.  By this standard Italy should have 5,700 shelter spots, but it has just 500.  Furthermore, Italian domestic abuse workers say that there is also a shortage in legal, medical, psychological, and financial assistance for battered women attempting to leave abusive relationships.

Earlier this month in Genoa, a man threw acid into the face of a woman.  Investigators suspect it was a crime of passion.  This is the fifth such attack in Italy this year.  In July, a 38 year-old waitress was shot in the chest by her husband when he was in a jealous rage.  In May, a 16-year old girl was stabbed 20 times in the chest by her boyfriend, he then fatally set her on fire.  In Italy between 2000 and 2012, more than 2,200 women have been murdered in similar circumstances.  Statistically, for over a decade a woman has been murdered by her lover every two days.

Prime Minister Letta’s new 12-point decree is a step in the right direction, though it will not help the 81 women killed since the beginning of 2013, 75 percent of which were committed by significant others.  While the new laws will not help these women, hopefully it will protect women going forward and work to uproot the deep seeded gender stereotypes in Italy.

Sarah Emery is a 3L and the Executive Editor for the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.