Fifteen-year-old Fabiana Luzzi made a fatal mistake last Friday night when she told a 17-year-old suitor, known only as Davide M. in court documents, that she did not want to have sex with him. The two teens, who had reportedly been waffling on the edge of romance for quite some time, had wandered off into a forest on the edge of Corigliano Calabro in Calabria in southern Italy to do what teens do best—explore the oft-frustrated intrigue of young love. They kissed and cuddled, but when Fabiana resisted intercourse, her not-quite-boyfriend admitted to police that he lost his head and pulled out his knife. He stabbed the young woman—whom he had wanted to make love to only moments earlier—more than 20 times in her chest, abdomen and back, in what Italians call a raptus, or fit of rage. Then, he reportedly admitted to police, he left her bleeding in a ravine for over an hour before returning with a canister of gas to burn the evidence of his crime of passion. But when he drizzled the gas over Fabiana’s body, she sprang to life and found the energy to lunge at him, trying desperately to knock the gas canister out of his hands, spilling gas on his clothes. The two struggled but ultimately Fabiana, weakened by the loss of blood from her stab wounds, collapsed. Davide lit a match, threw it on Fabiana, and walked away. “She was still alive when I set her on fire,” Davide told investigators according to the police report seen by The Daily Beast. The ashes from what was left of her singed corpse were found the next morning. When Davide was arrested, he reportedly confessed to the horrible crime.
Fabiana, who would have turned 16 on June 13, is the youngest known victim of femicide in Italy, a moribund crime category also referred to as intimate partner or intimate personal violence that has reached epidemic proportions in recent years. In 2012, 127 women were murdered by men they loved—by husbands, boyfriends and sons. Chillingly, 47 women escaped death last year but were so brutally beaten, their cases are tagged as attempted femicides by the authorities that tally such gruesome statistics. The women who lived are scarred for life, both physically and psychologically. Many have suffered disfiguring facial fractures, broken ribs and even acid burns. Some of those who died last year were thrown off balconies, strangled with appliance power cords, and stabbed with their own stiletto heels.
Fabiana Luzzi is the 41st victim of gender-based violence in Italy so far in 2013, but there have been 30 attempted femicides already this year. One such case of attempted femicide is 20-year-old Rosaria Aprea, an aspiring Miss Campania beauty contestant, who nearly died last week after her 27-year-old boyfriend Antonio Caliendo, with whom she had recently had a baby, repeatedly kicked her stomach so violently she had to undergo emergency surgery to have her spleen removed. In the post-operative recovery room, according to social workers interviewed by The Daily Beast, Aprea reportedly told them that she still loved Caliendo and would not press charges, even though he admitted to the brutal attack. When she is released from the hospital, she will go back to the home they share. Based on domestic violence statistics collected at safehouses and through domestic violence helplines like Telefono Rosa, most abusers are habitual offenders—grim statistics for women like Aprea. More than half of Italy’s femicide victims had reported their partners for domestic violence in the past, if only because they needed acute medical care. But, like many women in seriously dysfunctional relationships, they forgave their aggressors—often because of the psychological control the men wielded over them.
But fatal domestic violence is about much more than helping women escape a life-threatening situation. At the core of the problem in Italy is a serious cultural flaw that somehow enables Italian men to believe women are dispensable. Barbara Spinelli, an Italian lawyer and author of Feminicidio, who gives seminars on femicide and domestic violence to lawyers, social workers, police, educators and those who work and counsel battered women across Europe, believes part of the problem in Italy is public perception of women. She says the portrayal of women as sex objects and the stereotyped roles and responsibilities of women and men in the family put women at a disadvantage. “The distorted media representation of femicide and attempted femicide cases, as well as the lack of dissemination of relevant statistics, brings about the cultural strengthening of violence against women and makes the public opinion incapable of seeing how this kind of violence is anything but normal and pervasive.”
In fact, the Italian average for domestic violence and femicide is the highest per capita in Europe. One in three Italian women admit to being physically abused by their partners on a regular basis, and that figure is likely under-reported according to Rashida Manjoo, the UN Human Rights Council’s special reporter on Violence whose 2012 report on Italy (PDF) is shameful at best. “Most manifestations of violence are underreported in the context of a patriarchal society where domestic violence is not always perceived as a crime; where victims are largely economically dependent on the perpetrators of violence; and perceptions persist that the state responses will not be appropriate or helpful,” she wrote.
Often the violence only comes to light because the victim dies or because it is so brutal the woman needs medical care. But, in part due to lack of community or family support, the abused women almost always go back to the abuser, which gives him even more power, enabling his sadistic belief that it is his right to beat his woman. But it is not just men with a jaded view. In a 2010 Eurobarometer survey, more than 90 percent of Italian women believed that domestic violence was an accepted, common occurrence in the country, and, perhaps worse, that there was nothing they could do to stop it. What that means in practical terms is that mothers, grandmothers, daughters and girlfriends turn a blind eye to what is actually a lethal crime and not just a family matter.
On Tuesday, Italy’s lower house of parliament ratified the Istanbul Convention, which aims to prevent and combat violence against women. The MP’s vote makes Italy the fifth country to ratify the treaty. (The vote will need to be repeated in the upper house of parliament in order to officially pass.) A day earlier, Italy’s speaker of the house Laura Boldrini, who has also been the victim of a campaign of vicious sexual threats ranging from rape to sodomy had called for a moment of silence for Fabiana, and said that even though the topic of discussion was well publicized, that it is time to change the mentality of the nation when it comes to the acceptance of violence against women. “We as a nation have grown accustomed to the horror or violence disguised as love,” she said. “But no violence can be eradicated until this society is free from such concepts as subordination and ownership based on gender.”
On the same day, Fabiana’s friends and classmates held a silent cortège through the tiny village of Corigliano Calabro in honor of their lost friend. They wore red laces in their sneakers and held banners with tributes to Fabiana and warnings against the continued acceptance of violence against women. They also put shoes—ballet slippers, sneakers and high heels—on the city’s steps amid posters saying “No” and “It’s time to stop the violence.” It was a poignant procession and display, and the first of its kind in the country staged by adolescents. As the students walked past Fabiana’s mother’s house, the crowd clapped in a sign of respect. “Everyone loved her, except one, and he is also a victim of what is wrong with this society,” her mother Rosa Luzzi, surrounded by family members and the local parish priest, said tearfully from the balcony.
Fabiana will not be the last victim of domestic violence this year in Italy. But her death may be the most important if it spurs a movement among a generation of young women whose lives are all at stake if attitudes don’t change soon.