To Die For

Italian Boyfriend Suffocated After Threatening to Out His Partner With Revenge Porn

The murder of a young man and the suicide of a young woman tied to revenge porn have shocked the country.

ROME—Hu Congliang, a 20-year-old Chinese man living in Modena apparently didn’t want his relationship with his 17-year-old boyfriend to end. When the boyfriend tried to break up in early November, Hu allegedly threatened that he would tell everyone about the teen’s homosexuality—with intimate pictures to prove it. The teen was mortified, afraid his family would disown him, so he stayed in the relationship a few weeks longer.

But last weekend, he couldn’t cope any longer so he allegedly gathered four of his buddies and went to Hu’s home. There, the five teenage boys allegedly suffocated Hu with his bed pillow and stuffed him into a suitcase they slid under the 20-year-old’s bed and left. The victim’s mother found her son in the luggage.

Three of the adolescent boys have been stopped by police, but so far they have not been cooperative. It was only through investigating the victim’s phone and email messages that investigators say they realized the motive for the murder. Marcello Castello, the homicide detective in charge of the inquiry, told reporters that Hu had dozens of photos of his younger boyfriend on his phone and computer, some of which he had sent to the teen with threatening remarks.

“From what we understand so far, the punitive mission was prompted by the photographs,” he said.

Hu’s murder is the second death in Italy this month due to the threat of someone posting pornographic photos or videos. In early November, 22-year-old Michela Deriu of Sardinia took her own life at a friend’s house under apparently suspicious circumstances. The woman had recently been the victim of a break-in during which around €1,000 was stolen and her suicide note was not convincing. Not only did her handwriting seem forged, but police didn’t buy that she would have taken her life over the stolen cash.

This week, investigators in Sardinia arrested three of Deriu’s female friends, one of whom owned the house where the 22-year-old took her life. They are charged with trying to extort money from Deriu over the existence of videos of her having sex, apparently taken by hidden camera. Investigators say one appeared to show Deriu in a state of intoxication or under the influence of drugs. The three women are also charged with “instigating a suicide.” They had apparently tried to extort cash from Deriu in exchange for not publishing the film. Police think the women might have been involved in the break-in as well.

The deaths follow the high-profile suicide of Tiziana Cantone, a 31-year-old woman from Naples who took her life in September 2016 after winning the so-called right to be forgotten ruling by an Italian court that ordered Google to remove a pornographic video of herself she had shared with a few friends who uploaded it onto the web. The video, which had around a million views, was eventually removed, but lawyers who won the case for her charged her around €22,000 for their trouble, even though the “right to be forgotten” request is something anyone can do. She had quit her job, changed her name, and moved out of Naples, but the video still haunted her. Her successful suicide attempt was the fourth time she tried to commit suicide.

Cantone’s suicide spawned anti-revenge porn legislation in Italy’s courts, which had stalled until the recent deaths this month. Now lawmakers say they will once again push the measure forward. The bill would provide legal framework for those who want to press charges against anyone who posts photos or videos of them against their will. It would also provide counseling for victims of revenge porn who often slide into depression when the embarrassing videos are public. Gian Ettore Gassini, a family lawyer who supports the bill, says a law is the only way.

“The only deterrent for these criminals could be represented by strict criminal prosecution and the ban on the use of social services,” he says. “But, unfortunately, as it stands, our legal and judicial guarantees do not allow it. And so the victims of certain crimes remain isolated and the ex continues to laugh with general indifference. That’s not fair.”