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A brutal murder has prompted Italy to boost its laws against gender-based violence. Is it enough?

People shout slogans during a demonstration against violence on women, in Rome, Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021.
People shout slogans during a demonstration against violence on women, in Rome, Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021. Copyright AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia
Copyright AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia
By Giulia Carbonaro
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After the latest murder of a woman by her partner, Italy is revisiting its laws protecting women from gender-based violence. But experts say new legislative measures are not what the country needs.

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Only days after a pregnant woman was brutally killed by her boyfriend in a murder that shocked and outraged the nation, Italy has introduced stricter measures to try to stop the steady rise in the number of femicides in the country.

Giulia Tramontano, 29, was seven months pregnant when she was stabbed to death by her partner and baby’s father, 30-year-old Alessandro Impagnatiello, who was reportedly in a secret relationship with another woman.

The gruesome details of the murder and Impagnatiello’s attempts to conceal her body, together with his efforts to deflect attention from the police investigation, have contributed to making Tramontano’s murder a major case for Italian media and the public.

The woman’s death, and that of her unborn baby, caused a wave of emotion that reached the government, with the Cabinet passing a new legislative package on Wednesday evening which includes measures to speed up legal processes involving victims of gender-based violence and extend the protection of women who have suffered stalking.

How bad is gender-based violence in Italy?

While in Italy the number of homicides has been generally declining since the 1990s, the number of women killed by a family member or a partner has remained high, and, proportionately, has grown in recent years.

“The situation has been stagnant for years,” Elena Biaggioni, vice president of D.i. Re, a national association managing over 100 anti-violence centres and 60 women’s shelters across the country, told Euronews. “What we’ve seen is an increase in the more violent cases.”

According to the latest data from Italy’s Ministry of the Interior, out of a total of 319 homicides in the country in 2022, 125 -- about 39% -- were femicides, intentional killings with a gender-related motivation.

Almost 74% of these femicides -- 103 in total -- happened in a domestic environment, in line with global data which shows that women are more likely to die at the hand of a family member or a partner than a stranger, unlike men.

According to the group Femminicidio Italia, which collects data on femicides in Italy, there have been at least 18 victims of femicides in Italy since the beginning of the year.

AP Photo/Antonio Calanni
A woman walks in front of a poster for a campaign raising awareness on gender-based violence.AP Photo/Antonio Calanni

“Violence against women is a phenomenon that’s more or less present in all countries, caused by structural causes like the disparity between men and women, stereotypes and prejudices,” Biaggioni said. “But of course in countries where there’s a macho culture and sexism is stronger, like Italy, this violence is justified in a different way.”

“The phenomenon is really serious, and it’s rooted in our experience as a country,” Irene Pellizzone, professor of constitutional law at the University of Milan, told Euronews. “Official data from 2014 showed that one in four women aged between 25 and 75 has suffered some form of gender violence, and we have no evidence that this percentage has declined.”

The numbers around violence against women in Italy could be even worse than reported, Pellizzone said, as there’s a lack of data on episodes involving disabled women, migrant women and women who suffer from drug addiction.

Do the government’s new measures go far enough?

Under the new law, which still needs to be approved by Parliament before coming into force, those accused of stalking, cyber-bullying or domestic violence would be forced to stay 500 metres away from their victims' homes and other places they usually go. 

Victims of domestic violence, stalking, and other crimes which disproportionately affect women would be constantly informed on the location of their aggressors, and notified when they are released from prison.

On top of that, a preventative measure would allow authorities to take away any weapon in possession of a person who’s been already reported for any of the previous crimes. The legislative packet could be modified as it goes through the two chambers, but it’s expected to be passed through Parliament.

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“Some elements [of the new package] are probably going in the right direction, for example the efforts to provide victims with greater protection,” Alessandra Viviani, associate professor of international law at the University of Siena, told Euronews. “But in my opinion, to combat the phenomenon of violence against women, this isn’t enough,” she added.

“We cannot continue to work only and exclusively in the field of criminal law, as we’ve done in the past few years. And it’s clear from the fact that episodes of violence against women aren’t decreasing, but are becoming ever more obscene in their violence and cruelness.”

For Viviani, what Italy needs to address is the way men who kill women are seen by the media and the public. “Femicides are seen as the actions of crazy men, men who don’t accept being left behind,” she said.

“As long as we keep on interpreting femicides as the action of a few men turned evil, we’re never going to see a change in society. Because violence against women comes from a profound inequality that’s deeply rooted in our culture.”

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What the country needs, according to Viviani, it’s to educate people, starting from schools, to feel empathy and respect towards women.

Biaggioni, who thinks that “we should not act on the wave of emotion for one particular victim”, agrees. The real problem in Italy, she said, is a lack of training, “the ability to recognise that violence against women is a serious problem.”

“We need prevention, we need education,” she said. “We need anti-violence centres to be able to go to schools and talk to the kids about the topic. Most of the activities on violence in schools are done by law enforcement agencies through programs against bullying, online violence, and so on -- that’s not enough,” she continued. “But they don’t let associations like ours into schools because they’re afraid of the so-called gender ideology.”

“We need to make people understand that there’s a way out of this violence,” Pellizzone said. “We need to increase funding to the anti-violence centres, and we need to provide the tools for women to ask for help without feeling guilt and knowing that their physical integrity is their constitutional right.”

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