Politics Analysis

Domestic violence against women escalating in Italy

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The pandemic caused a surge in domestic violence statistics in Italy (Image via Pixabay)

In Italy, one woman in three has experienced violence, physical or sexual, during her lifetime — almost 7 million. And these figures seem to be just the tip of the iceberg.

Killing and violence on the rise, media that “justify”, rights such as abortion often denied, a secondary role in work and European laws such as the Istanbul Convention – ratified by the European Union but hardly ever respected – paint a picture of a society where lack of equality seems to be a problem issue only around Women's Day.

According to ISTAT, the Italian National Institute of Statistics, 31.5% of Italian women have experienced some form of sexual or physical violence in their lifetime. Before the pandemic, the situation for Italian women was already worrying. If we take only March 2019 alone, there was an average of one female victim of violence every 15 minutes. Then, during the first lockdown between March and June 2020, with forced cohabitation, the lines of anti-violence centres and help chat rooms started to overheat with an increase of 119.6% increase in calls compared to 2019, from 6,956 to 15,280 requests. And that may just be the tip of the iceberg.

Recalled by the European Union

In 2011 in Istanbul, Turkey, the European Council approved an international treaty to prevent and fight violence against women. Today it is known as the Istanbul Convention. Italy, like other member states, ratified it in 2013. In 2018, GREVIO, the expert group on violence against women that monitors the implementation of the Convention in EU countries that have ratified it, examined and “slapped” Italy.

The monitoring showed that in Italy, one still encounters resistance and a tendency has emerged to reinterpret and reorient the notion of gender equality in terms of family and maternity policies. In addition: poor law enforcement, lack of prevention, support, training and safeguarding of child witnesses of violence.

Federica Lucchesi, a civil lawyer who was part of the working group together with the network of associations DiRe (Women's network against violence), explains:

For example, despite what is highlighted in Article 31 of the Convention (which specifies that episodes of violence should be taken into consideration for child custody), there is practically no Italian court that respects this article. Abusive fathers can have shared custody despite an ongoing trial. And, as it happened, they can also have exclusive custody of the children because the mother is pointed out as a hostile parent towards the father who beat her. Often the magistrates implementing these sentences are women.

In order to counter the poor application of the Convention, in 2019, the Viareggio Charter was signed — a charter of intent to fight violence with training, prevention, legislation and culture.

Ersilia Raffaelli, President of the Casa delle Donne in Viareggio (Lucca) and one of the founders of the Charter, explains:

“In Italy, the Istanbul Convention is almost never applied. There are 7 million women who have suffered from violence in Italy, but more have kept silent: it is estimated that 90-92% of the cases are undeclared. It isn´t easy to denounce also because often women are not believed. And femicides are on the increase: on average one every three days. In Italy, we are facing the failure of civilisation.”

A problem with distant roots

‘He who causes the death of a spouse, daughter, or sister upon discovering her in illegitimate carnal relations and in the heat of passion caused by the offence to his honour or that of his family will be sentenced to three to seven years.’

This was specified in the so-called “honour killing” law, created during the fascist 20-year period and abrogated only in 1981 — which punished with rather mild penalties the family member who killed an “adulteress” or suspected as such. In 1981, the law on the so-called “reparatory marriage” was also repealed, where a rape on a woman could be extinguished, paradox of paradoxes, if the rapist himself agreed to marry the offended person. Only in 1996, the rape did become a crime against the person.

A cultural problem

Given the laws that survived from fascism until a few years ago and how they influenced public opinion, one can begin to understand that the problem comes from afar. And it is not surprising that, to this day, rape is often somehow “justified” or if domestic violence – from which, according to police data, constitutes 82% of all violence against women – is accompanied by suspicion and disbelief, thought of as an act of wrath, somehow related to the “honor killing” and often excusing the aggressor as being ill.

Mario De Maglie, clinical coordinator of the Listening Centre for Mistreating Men in Florence, specifies:

Violence is a choice, not a disease. Yet there are still those who see it as a pathology, justifying it. The man is an active part of the abusive behaviour and must be an active part of its interruption. The data tell us impressive numbers with three out of ten women being abused. And these figures are a low estimate because undenouced violence is obviously not taken into account. It could be assumed that half of the Italian women suffer violence. There is a cultural problem that we have been carrying around for centuries. Many things are changing, but the Italian cultural background still imagines which role that men play and which for the women: subordinate to the male.

A mediatic problem

Cinzia Marroccoli, President of the shelter and anti-violence centre in Potenza, to which hundreds of women from all cultural backgrounds go, explains that there is a media problem:

Usually if we see the headline of a newspaper about a woman who has been killed, we read horrific things. The man who kills a woman – she underlines – is always depicted as having excuses. Like ‘his wife was going to leave him’, ‘he had lost his job’, ‘it was an accident’, ‘it was a homicidal rage’. Those don't sound like reasons to kill, to me. If we look at the history of the women killed, in 60% of the cases she had already filed a complaint but it wasn't taken seriously.


So then why do you, journalist, pass it off as a momentary attack of rage? In 2021 in Italy in one month, seven women were killed by men. If seven men had been killed by women, there would have been a revolution. The Italian culture must be turned around from the bottom up to change. From the roots. Or we will continue to witness family violence. It is time to say ‘enough’.

A problem at the workplace

During their working lives, 1.404 million Italians have suffered physical harassment or sexual blackmail at work — about 9% of current and former workers. As if that were not enough, Italy ranks last in Europe for female employment. A problem that affects all sectors. In general, the lack of working women is not seen as a problem by most Italians: 63.5% thinks it is right for women to sacrifice their careers to devote to the family.

At the beginning of 2020, the Centro Studi Investimenti Sociali (Censis) found that women working in Italy were just over half – 56.2% – and earned less than men. The dossier, presented by Economy Undersecretary Cecilia Guerra in October 2020, mentioned that the average income of women was 59.5% lower than that of men. The pandemic has increased gender inequality — of the 444,000 fewer people employed in 2020, 70% are women. Prime Minister Mario Draghi's new government has said it will work to make this better. As, however, the previous ones had said.

Francesco Bertolucci is a freelance Italian journalist.

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