News Analysis: Italy's new gender-based violence law fills legislative gaps, without cutting problem at its roots

Source: Xinhua| 2019-07-20 05:21:23|Editor: yan
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by Alessandra Cardone

ROME, July 19 (Xinhua) -- Italy's new law against gender-based violence introduced fresh criminal offenses useful to further tackle the phenomenon, but was overall insufficient to cut the problem at its roots, Italian experts said.

The legislation was passed by the senate on Wednesday, after being voted by the parliament's lower house in April.

The bill had been submitted by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte's coalition government, and dubbed Codice rosso (Italian for Red Code) to stress the urgency of a long-term solution for a problem that has proved impervious to previous attempts to curb it.

At least 120 women were killed between August 2017 and July 2018, according to data by social research institute CENSIS and the Department for Equal Opportunities of the Italian government.

At least 92 of them had been killed by husbands, male partners, or male relatives, and fell into the official definition of "femicide."

A previous research by the National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT) on request of the Ministry of Justice estimated some 600 femicides between 2012 and 2016.

Since January, at least 27 new cases were registered.


The law toughened jail terms and financial fines for perpetrators of various kinds of violence.

It increased the maximum prison sentence from six to seven years for domestic violence, from 10 to 12 years for sexual violence (up to life sentence if perpetrator and victim had a relationship), and from five to six and a half years for stalking.

The maximum penalty for group rape was raised from 12 to 14 years.

The law also required police to fast-track investigations and to report the cases to a prosecution office within three days from the complaint.

Finally, it introduced new types of offenses, namely revenge porn (abusing a person by illegally spreading sexually explicit images or videos of them on the Internet), acid attacks, and forced marriage.

Revenge porn will be punished with a maximum of six years jail, acid attack with 14 years (life sentence if the attack turns deadly), and forced marriage with up to five years.


The law was hailed by political forces close to the coalition government, and overall appreciated for filling legislative gaps -- with the new types of offenses -- and for drawing attention over a widely spread phenomenon.

Yet, judiciary officials and women's groups said it was not enough to tackle the problem at its roots, and would risk putting too much pressure on both victims and those entitled to investigate, namely police and magistrates.

"We strongly need to keep attention high on gender-based violence... and in this perspective, the new law is commendable," Cotrina Madaghiele, sociologist and president of Genere Femminile (Female Gender) association, told Xinhua.

"Yet, this is the umpteenth punitive law, and a punitive approach alone has proved useless to significantly contain this kind of violence," she stressed.

According to the sociologist, the provision focused on punishments for the male perpetrator only, but it was instead through education that the problem could effectively be addressed, and eventually erased.

"Fighting gender-based violence needs a deep change of mentality, which is possible only with long-term, well-planned and well-funded education campaigns in schools, society sectors, and law-enforcement forces," she explained.

Critics to the law also said speeding up the hearing procedures before the prosecutor -- the three-day limit -- might have an opposite, unwanted result.

In an official opinion sent to Italian Justice Minister Alfonso Bonafede on May 8 -- before the senate started discussing the bill -- the High Council of the Judiciary (CSM) said this limit was "too rigid" and potentially counterproductive.

"Making the victims renew their statements in a few days is useless --- being most likely they will have nothing to add to what already declared (to police)," the CSM wrote.

"And it risk sparking a "secondary victimization' by criminal proceedings, which the supranational legislation recommends to avoid."

The judiciary's governing body also stated the fast track would risk to create "a burden difficult to manage for judicial offices and police forces" and to deprive prosecutors "of the possibility to elaborate an articulated investigative strategy."

DiRE Network -- Italy's umbrella association gathering 60 groups that manage anti-violence centers and shelters all over Italy -- spotted a further weakness in this rule.

"Domestic violence victims are required to speak to the magistrate within three days, but at the same time the law does not impose the alleged perpetrator to be removed from home," president Lella Palladino told La Repubblica newspaper.

"This can put women under an even worst threat... it risks sparking a boomerang effect," she said.

Finally, the new provision ruled all police forces had to specifically train staff to deal with gender-based and domestic violence starting within 12 months from the approval of the bill.

"This passage is positive, but not entirely new... police forces were encouraged to have specific training even in the past, but rarely did due to lack of public funding," Madaghiele from Genere Femminile told Xinhua.

"Yet again, the new law does not specify where the resources for such training of law-enforcement officials would come from, so it is not sure this part can be implemented effectively."