The Calabrian town of Corigliano Calabro, known for its fantastic clementines, now smells of burning human flesh. These days, people gather in that southern Italian town to pay their respects to Fabiana Luzzi, a dance-mad teenager whose death shocked a country into becoming increasingly concerned by the rate of femicides- the gender-based killings of women.
Details of her death are ferocious. Her boyfriend, 17-year-old Davide takes her out-of-town to the ruins of an old farmhouse and stabs her in 20 places. He returns, two hours later, with a container of gas. Fabiana is still alive and struggles to stop him. He drags her body into the woods, to avoid any smoke being seen from the highway, and there burns her to death. According to news reports, friends say Davide was jealous and had beaten her black and blue in the past. She had decided to end the relationship.
Fabiana’s brutal murder is the latest in a series of ‘femicides’ in Italy: Denise Morello, 23, was shot in the head, in an underground parking lot, by her ex-boyfriend. Alessandra Iacullo, 30, from Rome was killed by her ex-boyfriend, who repeatedly stabbed her in the neck, after she broke up with him. Chiara Di Vita, 27, was shot to death by her husband who then committed suicide.
Since the beginning of the 1990s, the number of man-on-man homicide has diminished in Italy, while the number of women murdered by men has increased. And in only four percent of the cases was the perpetrator unknown to the victim. Causes leading to femicide include separation of a couple, conflict within the relationship, honor, men’s unemployment and jealousy by the perpetrator.
A national survey conducted in 2006 estimated that 31.9 percent of women between the ages of 16 and 70 face physical or sexual violence during their lifetime and that 14.3 percent of them faced at least one episode of physical or sexual violence by their current or former partner. Domestic violence in the private sphere remains largely invisible and under-reported.
Although statistics from the Rome Prosecutor’s Office indicate a slight increase of reports on sexual offenses and domestic violence in 2010, numbers remain high of women victims of non-partner and of partner abuse who do not report cases to the police.
Meanwhile, Italy’s Supreme Court established that a jealous husband who cuts his wife’s hair by force and against her will is committing a crime of aggravated domestic violence. The Supreme Court upheld the decision of the court of appeals of Genoa, which had rejected an appeal of a soldier charged with cutting his wife’s hair during an argument. His argument was that he was simply helping his wife to do something she would have done by herself anyway.
In May this year, Italy’s lower house of parliament ratified a landmark treaty aimed at combating violence against women. Members of parliament voted unanimously to make Italy the fifth country to ratify the Council of Europe’s wide-ranging convention on violence against women. While that is a step in the right direction, United Nations special rapporteur on violence against women, Rashida Manjoo says that Italy’s lack of redress for victims and lengthy trials that often end with cases being thrown out because of the statute of limitations could hinder progress.
On the other hand, in a country where most manifestations of violence are still under-reported, where domestic violence is not always perceived as a crime, where victims are largely economically dependent on the perpetrators of violence, and where perceptions persist that legal responses will not be appropriate or helpful, violence against women continues.
Annex Achieng would like to believe she was born not so long ago, but it’s been decades. She started work as a journalist in 1997. Newsrooms then were smoking dens and typewriters were in vogue. The job was interesting but sometimes repetitive. To escape, temporarily, she applied for the much coveted Commonwealth Broadcasting Association (CBA) scholarship and won. She flew to England almost immediately via Israel. Annex recently moved to Italy where she writes and works as a foreign correspondent for the East African Newspaper. She is also the author of Molly’s Vote.