03.16.12

Italy Struggles With Spate of Domestic-Violence Murders

A spate of gruesome spousal killings has Italians questioning whether the country’s machismo culture needs to change.

Francesca Alleruzzo knew that her husband, Mario Albanese. was going to kill her. So did her colleagues and her neighbors. In fact, the 45-year-old schoolteacher from Brescia, in the north of Italy, often told those around her that he would take her life some day. After all, she said, he’d told her many times that if he couldn’t have her, no one else would either. “You are mine or nobody’s,” he threatened by telephone and text message countless times, according to her lawyer, Emilia Tosi.

Finally, last week, he apparently made good on the threat. Alleruzzo was shot to death outside her home along with her new companion, Vito Macadino. Police say Albanese then let himself into Alleruzzo’s apartment and killed her 19-year-old daughter from a previous relationship and her daughter’s boyfriend—but spared the lives of his own three children with Alleruzzo, ages 10, 7 and 5, who woke to the sounds of the gunshots and watched the scene unfold.

Friends say Alleruzzo lived in a constant state of terror, afraid of what her husband would do to her after she left him two years ago. She spent every moment wondering when or where he would appear next. Would it be in her bedroom late at night or at the school where she worked? She told people that she left Albanese, who worked as a truck driver, because of his violent temper and out of her fear that he would harm her or their three young children. But he still had keys to her apartment because she was afraid to change the locks. “He said he would kill me if I changed the locks,” Alleruzzo told her lawyer, who was trying to secure a restraining order against him that would still allow supervised visitation with the children.

Perhaps sensing he was losing his battle to win his wife back, Albanese apparently lost control. On March 3, according to court documents, he called a friend and told him, “She kicked me out of the house, and now she’s going out with someone else. I want to see his face.” He then staked out his ex-wife’s apartment, according to two people who testified to police that they saw him that night. Fueled by jealousy, he must have lost his temper when the car Alleruzzo and Macadino were in finally pulled up at around 3:30 a.m. Police say he shot them both, leaving their bodies on the street, and then went upstairs and killed the others. He turned the gun on himself, but he was out of bullets. The cops arrested him a short time later. “I’m sorry to everyone,” he told the investigating judge when he was arraigned. “But she betrayed me.”

Alleruzzo’s death is a horrifying example of domestic violence to the extreme. But it is hardly an anomaly in Italy, where, police say, 28 women have been killed by former husbands or boyfriends—and in three cases, by sons—since the beginning of the year. Cases of “femicide” in Italy have been growing steadily in the last several years. In 2011, 136 women in Italy lost their lives in domestic crimes. The year before, 127 women were killed.

In half of the cases, the women had called the police for help at least once before they were killed.

Some cases have captured national attention, like that of 30-year-old Melania Rea, who was stabbed 35 times near her home in Teramo in 2011. Rea’s husband, Salvatore Parolisi, is standing trial for his wife’s murder amid revelations that he was a serial adulterer with multiple cellphones for his various mistresses, many of whom he also allegedly abused. Parolisi denies killing his wife, but his lawyer, Walter Biscotti, who defended Rudy Guede in the Meredith Kercher murder, implied that perhaps one of his mistresses is to blame.

Many more cases barely make the headlines because domestic violence is still considered a private matter in Italy. Increasingly, authorities blame a misogynic Italian culture, which tends to assume marital or interrelationship problems are best solved without help from the outside. But if women feel that no one is listening or no one will do anything to try to stop the violence, they don’t even bother to call for help. “This is not a private matter any longer,” said Elsa Fornero, Italy’s new minister of justice said at a conference on domestic violence in Turin last week. “The road is long, and Italy is very far behind. We are facing a daily tragedy that is also a cultural problem. We need to do more in terms of gender education. We need to teach men not to treat women as objects of possession or their personal subjects.”

The majority of the women who have lost their lives this year were stalked before being shot or knifed to death, like 49-year-old Esmeralda Hilsa Romero Encalda of Piacenza, whose ex-boyfriend shot her six times at close range after she reported to police that he was stalking her.  He then killed himself with the same gun. Then there is 43-year-old Antonia Bianco of Milan, whose ex-companion stands accused of stabbing her in the heart with her stiletto heel a few hours after she called the police to report that he broke into her apartment and beat her up. The police came to her house, but soon left, dismissing it as a private affair after talking to her boyfriend.  He called the police to report that his girlfriend had collapsed, but had left by the time the ambulance arrived. The list of such tragedies is endless and affects women of all ages and marital status.

Many victims were still married, like 51-year-old Gabriella Falzoni of Verona, whose husband purportedly strangled her with a scarf in February as he flew into a jealous rage after reading a text message on her phone. He then ran from the house screaming “I killed my wife” before turning himself in.

Some victims are young, like 24-year-old Andrea Christina Marin, whose 57-year-old boyfriend, Santo Carelli, was arrested along with three of his friends for fracturing her skull in Macerata after he saw her talking to another man on the street. One of the four men, who allegedly buried her body in the sand at a local beach after the murder, confessed.

In almost every femicide case in recent months, the women were trying to leave their relationship. In half of the cases, the women had called the police for help at least once before they were killed. But most women stayed in their dysfunctional hell because they either had nowhere to go or no way to financially support themselves, or they felt that no one would take them seriously. Italian laws on stalking are improving, but the court system is so slow that it often takes months or years to get a conviction, and by then it is often too late. Convictions are also easily overturned because the evidence in stalking cases is very subjective, which leaves room for reasonable doubt.

Women’s advocates say strengthening the laws and speeding up the process is a start, but the real problem is the Italian mentality. “Personally, I don’t think that problems like stalking and domestic violence, which are rooted in ignorance, can be solved by changing laws,” said parliamentarian and star attorney Giulia Bongiorno, who has just created an anti-stalking association called “Doppia Difesa” with Swiss model and television presenter Michelle Hunziker, who was once a victim of stalking. “With the current law, a stalking conviction can be easily overturned on erroneous evidence, and the mentality in Italy that domestic violence is a private matter. But it is time for the state to intervene and reeducate the society as a whole to save these women.”

Italy’s primary domestic-violence helpline, Telefono Rosa, is concerned by the growing number of femicide deaths in Italy. They believe that advancements in equality both at home and in the workplace that empower women socially often hurt them at home. In some cases of domestic homicide, many men feel they have lost total control over women they view as possessions and then cannot manage their jealousy when the woman either feels empowered enough to make decisions on her own or when she tries to leave the relationship.

Psychologist Alessandro Meluzzi says that’s when men snap. “When these men cannot come to terms with their loss of control over what they conceive as ‘their’ women, they cross the line from stalkers to killers,” he says.

“Until she is dead, the woman then becomes an object of a relentless vendetta.”

Roberta Bruzzone, a leading criminologist and technical consultant for Telefono Rosa, agrees. She says men who kill women they love have a predisposition for violence and an archaic attitude toward women in their lives. “The obsessive jealousy becomes manic and manifests itself in extreme violence as a way to regain control,” she says. “Women with these men are risking their lives every day.

It’s time to say we’ve had enough.”