At least one in four women experiences domestic abuse over their lifetime. The problem has been a major concern in Italy, where the attacks of jealous husbands are rarely regarded as a crime.
Passionate and hot-blooded, possessive, but always incredibly romantic – Italian couples have lived up to this stereotype for centuries.
Suvanda, one of the victims of domestic violence from Rome, had quite a different experience.
“I married an Italian man, it was 12 years ago. I was treated badly, with violence, both physical and psychological,” Suvanda recalls. “I have three children with him. We were all locked in a house and nobody could help us. And then I found out about this social center. I was told that they could help me here. I was lucky – I grabbed my children and fled … A kind angel helped me.”
The Maree shelter in Rome has room for 25 women; even so, there's a long waiting list. Women of all ages come to the shelter – all have suffered at the hands of men.
Court hearings for custody of their children are still under way in the majority of the cases, so many women prefer not to show their faces.
Sabrina Franca, director of the Maree antiviolence center, argues that it is a cultural problem.
“Violence is a cultural problem. Men were not punished if they were sexually abusing women. Until 1996, we still didn’t have a law against sexual violence,” Franca told RT. “For example, according to an old Italian legislation, a man could kill his wife, if she was cheating on him.”
But the streets of Rome appear to be full of Italian “new men.” They say they could never lift hand against a woman.
“If I could ever beat a woman?! No, I’ve never done this. If two enter the same door there should be only love behind it. Love, not violence,” a Rome man said.
“Me personally – never. I am against it. I also think there should be harsh punishment for this,” said another.
Some even blame it on aliens: “We Italians are very gentle men… Immigrants who come from East Europe could do this. We – never!”
But the latest Italian figures suggest almost 7 million women were victims of domestic violence in Italy last year. Psychologists say the high figures are because women are now less afraid to report their partners.
Psychotherapist and sex therapist Paula Matucci states that the situation has improved.
“Women read more and have access to information. And still terrible stories take place almost every day. Like that of an underage girl who was raped by a group of schoolchildren not far from Rome. The girl went to police – those guys were arrested. In just several months they came out to freedom. And now the whole village turned against the girl,” Matucci said. “To great pity, it’s a proof of intolerance and problems in our society.”
Based on the poll, every fourth woman in Italy has at least once been subjected to psychological or physical violence by a man. There’s no way to pick out who the next victim could be, and as yet nobody has come up with a fail-safe way of spotting a potential aggressor.
Italian television, with its provocative images of women, is often blamed for the problem.
After stripping on TV, model Michelle Hunziker struggled with the consequences of it for years. Then she decided to open her own center for victims of psychological violence.
“From outside Italy looks like a country which doesn’t have such problems, like a trouble-free land, but it’s not so – the problem of violence against women is huge,” Hunziker said. “We do a lot for countries abroad, but now we have to concentrate on helping our own land.”
Hunziker has changed her image radically, and she no longer strips on TV. But she still believes the problem of violence against women is not because women misbehave or exploit their looks, but just because they are women.