According to Nicoletta Livi Bacci of the Artemisia women's shelter in Florence, every two days a woman is killed as a result of domestic violence in Italy.
Behold the dark side of the passion-fueled "latin lover"; the urgent human rights issue nobody wants to talk about; the one Italians think is a private matter that should be dealt with at home. It is this prevailing attitude of course that has contributed to what is fast becoming a veritable epidemic of femicide in this country.
In March, Barbie Latza Nadeau reported for the Daily Beast on a spike in domestic-violence murders at the beginning of this year that justifiably outraged women's groups and finally started setting off alarm bells for everyone else. Nadeau quotes Justice Minister Elsa Fornero at a conference on domestic violence in Turin held in early March:
This is not a private matter any longer. The road is long, and Italy is very far behind. We are facing a daily tragedy that is also a cultural problem. We need to do more in terms of gender education. We need to teach men not to treat women as objects of possession or their personal subjects.
Half the women killed had previously called the police at least once. The majority were stalked first. A harrowing stalking experience in Italy led Swiss-Italian actress Michelle Hunziker to join forces with lawyer Giulia Bongiorno and start Doppia Difesa ("Double Defense"), a foundation to support victims of physical, verbal or sexual violence. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, there isn't even a word for 'stalking' in Italian. They use the English word.) The first two lines of the foundation's objective make no bones: "Discrimination, violence and abuse are fueled by silence. VIOLENCE IS NOT A PRIVATE MATTER: OPEN THAT DOOR."
Like Fornero, Sabrina Frasca, the director of the 'Maree' shelter in Rome, describes violence against women in Italy as a cultural problem. As she says in this television interview, there was no law against rape until 1996. And according to old Italian legislation, a man could kill his wife, if she was cheating on him.
On the rising rate of femicides in Italy (127 in 2010, 137 in 2011) lawyer Barbara Spinelli told Il Manifesto newspaper: “the family kills more [women] than the Italian Mafia, more than foreign organized crime."
However, if you think this doesn't hit close to home, think again. In Europe and North America, one in four women are victims of violence at the hands of men. According to a recent global study on violence against women (of unprecedented scope: it covers 85 percent of the world), in Europe, physical and sexual abuse is more dangerous to women than cancer.
I'll just let that one register for a moment.
Let's also be clear: all these statistics convey what has actually been reported. Who knows how many other cases have been swept under the domestic rug? I can relate to those women who never went to the police, because I'm one of them. Several years ago I lived with someone (in Canada) who verbally abused me regularly, and hit me once. At the time, I was too ashamed and embarrassed to tell anyone: how could a feminist like me end up in a relationship like this?
That's the thing: it can happen to any of us. I realize now that my silence was another form of victim-blaming. The idea that only a certain type of woman lets her male companion get away with abusing her is obviously preposterous. Yet it's precisely this focus on the victim that's at the core of so-called rape culture, which allows (male-led) media outlets to focus on how Hunziker has "cleaned up her image" since being stalked and refers to her abuse as a "consequence" of her stripping on television as a younger woman.
There is nothing women can do to prevent men from abusing them. The only way to fight violence against women is by understanding that MEN CAN CHOOSE NOT TO ABUSE. Men are capable of controlling themselves. According to a recent study on femicide by the Casa delle donne in Bologna, "In the last 5 years less than 10% of femicides [in Italy] were committed because of mental illness," despite the media's grossly exaggerated suggestions to the contrary.
Maybe you're thinking: Ok, all of this is awful. But what can I do about it?
Well, if you happen to be in Florence or Turin, I've got great news for you! Next week two amazing events are being held to support Italian victims of domestic violence.
The first, in Florence, is Women Supporting Women, a "wearable art show and sale" featuring work by women artisans, both expat and Italian, on Thursday, October 11, 2012 at 6:30 pm at the Casa della Creativita, Vicolo di Santa Maria Maggiore, 1R (with the artisans continuing to show on October 12, 2012). Tickets are available at the Paperback Exchange on Via delle Oche 4 [update: you can also get tickets at the door]. Thirty percent of the 10 euro aperitivo fee and ten percent of sale proceeds will go towards a public awareness campaign through Florence's Artemisia women's shelter. To quote the show's promotional material:
Artemisia ... has been helping women and children who have been victims of domestic violence since 1991. In the past year Artemisia has helped over 1200 women and their children rebuild their lives, yet their funding has been cut back by almost 35%. They need our support so that they can keep helping women to dare to dream of a better life for themselves and their children.
The second event is a national public gathering to be held over the weekend of Oct. 13 and 14 in various public spaces around Turin. Organized by the Se non ora quando feminist movement, Mai Piu' Complici ("No Longer Complicit") is a two-day event of readings, lectures and performances to address the urgent problem of domestic violence in Italy. You can also sign the petition here.
If you're not in Florence or Turin, then root out your local feminist group! The massive, forty-year global study mentioned above revealed that, when it comes to violence against women, "the mobilization of feminist movements is more important for change than the wealth of nations, left-wing political parties, or the number of women politicians."