[Brussels 12 August, 2013] Stronger penalties are set to be introduced for perpetrators of domestic violence in Italy. Italy has also recently signed the Council of Europe convention on Violence against Women, known as the Istanbul Convention, after 16 year-old Fabiana Luzzi was burned to death by a jealous boyfriend in May, prompting a minute’s silence in the Senate and political action.
Italy’s prime minister has vowed to crack down on violence against women, as the government passed a package of emergency measures designed to tackle the problem.
"We believe that in our country there was a need to give a very strong sign – not only a sign but … a radical change on this issue," said Prime Minister Enrico Letta. He told reporters he was very proud of this emergency decree, which must be approved by both houses of parliament before it becomes law.
The measures range from increased penalties for certain forms of domestic violence to the granting of permits to foreign victims on humanitarian grounds. Other reforms aim at making it easier for domestic violence to be reported and abusers to be removed from the home. No official statistics exist on the number of murders of women in Italy, but Telefono Rosa, a domestic violence support group, said that last year 124 women were killed by men because of their gender, most by current or former partners.
Reports of domestic abuse will no longer be able to be revoked by the complainant. The justice minister, Annamaria Cancellieri, said this was a particularly significant element of the bill "because in the past women often took back their denunciation in order to protect the children" and intimidation.
Cases of violence against women are to be given priority in Italy’s notoriously slow justice system and victims will also be guaranteed a state lawyer regardless of their income. Women victims will also be continually informed of developments in their case, such as when their attacker’s sentence has expired or when he is released from custody.
The decree increases current sentences by a third if violence against a woman is carried out in the presence of a minor, if the victim is pregnant or the perpetrator is a husband, ex-husband or boyfriend.
The bill also includes measures targeting online bullying. The speaker of the lower house of parliament, Laura Boldrini, highlighted the problem earlier this year when, weeks into the job, she read out some of the large volumes of sexually threatening and misogynistic emails she had received. One of them read: "You need to be lynched, bitch."
This year both of Italy’s houses of parliament voted to ratify the Council of Europe’s wide-ranging convention on violence against women. Last year the UN’s special rapporteur on violence against women, Rashida Manjoo, said after a visit to Italy that there was an urgent need to tackle the problem.
"Most manifestations of violence are under-reported in the context of a family-oriented and patriarchal society where domestic violence is not always perceived as a crime, there is economic dependency, and there are perceptions that the state response to such complaints will not be appropriate or helpful," Manjoo said.
Her report is available here.
Further innovations included in the bill include special treatment for migrant women, allowing for if the victim is an illegal immigrant she will be entitled to a resident’s permit on humanitarian grounds.