Marisa Leo is the latest victim of gender-based violence, making her the 79th woman killed in Italy this year alone. The numbers are alarming, with over 90 women killed in 2022 and 70 in 2021. Despite measures and “Red Codes,” there has been no decrease in the number of gender-based violence cases in Italy. While the number of reported cases has increased, many are still reluctant to come forward, and often, even when they do, their complaints are not enough to save lives. Marisa, despite her anti-violence activism and her decision to seek help, tragically lost her life.
It’s not just an emergency, it’s endemic
According to a report by Istat, the numbers in Italy remain “genocidal.” While it may no longer be news to point out that in 80% of cases, the perpetrators are partners, exes, or family members, it is important to emphasize this because there are multiple reasons behind such a high number of cases, according to Antonella Veltri, president of Di.re., Women’s Network against Violence. In Europe, Italy ranks third in terms of the absolute number of women killed by their partners. Veltri adds, “It’s not an emergency – it’s an endemic phenomenon.”
Lack of trust in the justice system
One possible explanation for this phenomenon lies in the reporting and subsequent legal processes. Veltri explains that out of the 21,000 women who seek help from centers each year, only 27% actually file reports, indicating a total lack of trust in the judicial system. This lack of trust is so pervasive that on November 11, Italy was reprimanded by the European Court of Human Rights for failing to adequately protect victims for the fourth time in 2023. One case involved a woman being labeled as “hostile” for refusing to participate in meetings between her former abuser and their children.
Lenient or ineffective measures
Veltri describes some cases as “horrifying” and evidence of “enormous discrepancies in terms of protection, depending on the competence of law enforcement, the legal profession, and the judiciary.” Often, the abusers have the freedom to move around and harass the women who have reported them. In some cases, the perpetrators receive lenient sentences, such as suspended sentences, which are treated as lightly as stealing an apple. As soon as they have the opportunity, they seek revenge on their victims. In other cases, the measures taken are not punitive but rather precautionary. For example, electronic monitoring bracelets are removed once the trial begins, and the abuser is allowed to have house arrest without supervision. It’s not difficult to see what happens next.
Giving up on seeking help
However, this is only applicable if and when a report is filed. Marisa Leo, the latest victim of a failing system, had withdrawn her complaint. While each story is unique, Veltri believes that there are numerous factors behind every decision to give up seeking help, such as societal stereotypes, threats, lack of income, authorities downplaying the situation, and judgmental relatives. Therefore, interventions need to take multiple dimensions into account.
The judicial path is not enough
A bill for “taking over investigations for domestic or gender-based violence crimes” was recently approved by the Chamber of Deputies. If the victim is not heard within three days, the prosecutor reassigns the case to expedite the legal process. While this is a strengthening of the “Red Code,” it is not enough for many. Elly Schlein, Secretary of the Democratic Party, comments, “We need to invest in education, starting from schools.” Senator Valeria Valente, also from the Democratic Party, adds, “We also need to focus on the family culture and the training of professionals. Resources and operational tools are needed.”
More support to start anew
This sentiment is echoed by those who work with these issues every day. Fabio Ruvolo, who manages three shelters for victims and a rehabilitation center for abusers through the Etnos cooperative, explains that the shelters are not enough. Some victims go to friends’ houses, while others return to their abusers because they are financially dependent and often discouraged by their initial contacts, usually law enforcement officers who are unable to provide information.
A cultural revolution
Valente, as the president of the Committee of Inquiry into Femicide, has previously stated that 64% of victims remain hidden. Culture and a lack of prospects play a role. 37% of Italian women do not have a bank account, and the Freedom Income, established in 2020 to support victims of violence, has decreased from €3 million to €1.8 million. Veltri points out that one of the most acute forms of violence is economic abuse. This is why interventions need to take a multidimensional approach. Ruvolo explains that both men and women often fail to recognize the violence they are experiencing. Men often believe their anger is provoked by the victim, while women blame themselves for the abuse they endure. They are all victims of systemic patriarchy and sexism.
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