Last Saturday, Milazzo’s Castle – which features strongly in my next book – hosted a book launch for legendary Dacia Maraini, who is half-Sicilian. The inspirational writer was promoting her new book “L’Amore Rubato” – Stolen Love, eight short stories based on true facts about physical and psychological violence inflicted on women. The eight protagonists are strong women who fight against their husbands/partners/friends, men of good social standing who transform into beaters, killers and rapists in the home.
Her launch is timely because of a rising tide of femicide in Italy, or gender-based killings, as termed by the UN. I was particularly interested because femicide is an undercurrent in my next book, based in Sicily. The mother of my 14 year old protagonist, Vincenzo, has been killed by a family member, and we hear of another character’s mother who is repeatedly badly beaten and told again and again to go back to her husband. In the end she jumps off a cliff. Both are based on true stories.
Silence is the victim’s enemy, and the perpetrator’s friend, says Maraini, just as omertà, the code of silence, was the mafia’s friend and allowed the mafia to operate unchecked throughout the 20th century. Men aren’t born violent, she said, it comes from the culture they grow up in. It stems from the archaic idea that love = possession, a morbid jealousy that is never-ending because it is self-nourishing. Violent men are weak men, because they need to command. To do so, they isolate their victim, just like the mafia, said Maraini.
Rape has nothing to do with sex, she said. In her view, it is an offence against the capacity to give birth. Rape, in Italian law, was considered an offence against public morality until 1996. Victims were blamed for provoking the crime in the first place. How many women actually reported rape? Very few. It is now defined as an offence against the person, and its definition is consistent with EU norms and comparable to English law, but proving rape to the satisfaction of an Italian judge is nearly impossible. The woman must still basically prove that she didn’t provoke the rape, so rape is highly under-reported. The burden of proof is too high, the shame attached to the raped woman by Italian society in general means that rape trials are rare, and prosecutions even rarer.
Domestic abuse is the same: it is extremely rare for a woman to file an assault complaint against her partner. Apart from being offered little support from police or social workers or medical staff – and, in some cases, little family support, she risks losing her job, and sometimes even her children. Men are rarely prosecuted for assault. Yet femicide, is occuring at a frightening rate.
Maraini blames what she called ‘the seduction culture’, whereby babies, particularly little girls, are trained to smile and seduce to get what they want. It begins with the pink bow tied to the front door when a baby girl is born, she said. Education is the key to change, and it must begin in pre-school.
Violence exists in every culture, but I have been shocked at the scale of femicide in Italy, particularly in the South. There must be a connection between those simpering girls in bikinis who open TV shows, and domestic violence. Girls are programmed to believe that their mortification and objectification – “the zeroing of their personality”, as Maraini called it, is not only acceptable, but desirable.