Image credits: Wikimedia Commons

Following the feminicide of a student, Italian women are fighting for change

On the December 5, the mayor of Rovigo, Italy, ordered that all flags be lowered to half-mast. The day was cold and overcast – nevertheless, the ancient piazza of nearby Padua was unusually packed. The occasion was naturally a funeral, but not that of a statesman. It was the funeral of a 22-year-old student.

On Saturday November 11, five days before she was scheduled to graduate, Giulia Cecchettin went for dinner with her ex-boyfriend and fellow Biomedical Engineering student, Filippo Turetta, at a nearby McDonalds. Her sister revealed that Giulia had been wanting to distance herself from Turetta for a while due to his obsessive and controlling behaviour, but the young man’s barely veiled threats of self-harm had left her feeling trapped by anxiety and guilt.

On the November 18, her body was found in a ravine off a motorway. Turetta had stabbed her over twenty times.

Turetta was later found in the emergency lane of a motorway in Germany, having exhausted his savings and ran out of fuel in his attempt to flee, and was extradited to Italy, to face trial. In a spontaneous outburst during his preliminary hearing he declared to the judge: “I was still in love with Giulia … she was mine and mine alone, I did a terrible thing, but she couldn’t be anyone else’s”.

In Italy, as in the UK, the majority of murdered women die at the hands of current or former partners

Giulia Cecchettin was not the first woman or girl to be killed by a partner or ex-partner in Italy this year. Yet her case resonated with the Italian public in a way the others did not. Giulia was everyone’s archetypal dream daughter – an intelligent young woman with a bright future, on the verge of graduating. Moreover, she had a father and sister, precipitated into the limelight in the wake of her death, whose impassioned and forthright activism was bent on making her difficult to forget. In the run-up to the International Day Against Violence Against Women a few weeks later, hundreds of thousands of women and men took to the streets in her name.

“A monster is an exception, a person society doesn’t have to take responsibility for… [These] monsters are not unwell, they are the healthy sons of the patriarchy, of rape culture”, Giulia’s sister, Elena Cecchettin, stated in an open letter to Corriere della Sera. “Feminicide is not a crime of passion, it is a crime of power, it is murder committed by the state, because the state does not protect us”. Feminicide is defined as “the killing of females by males because they are female” – that is to say, the murder of women or girls by men who are incapable of regarding them as equals deserving of liberty on the basis of their sex.

In Italy, as in the UK, the majority of murdered women die at the hands of current or former partners. Among them were 17-year-old Roberta Siragusa, who was beaten and burnt to death by 21-year-old Pietro Morreale in 2021, most likely for wanting to end the relationship. His lawyer had claimed that she set herself on fire.

Speaking at Giulia Cecchetin’s funeral, the bishop of Padua took a moment to ask all those in attendance to pray for the ‘peace of heart’ of her killer, whilst journalists asked the fathers of both Ms Cecchettin and murdered 15-year-old Chiara Gualzetti whether they had yet found it in themselves to forgive the young men

In the fallout of such cases, many mainstream commentators attempt to find a solution to the deep-rooted problem of male violence against women. A programme of ‘emotional education’ in schools has been promised – this would consist of sessions in which teenagers are taught how to make sense of their emotions and cope with sentiments of fear and anger without resorting to violence. However, rather than being arranged in collaboration with feminist and anti-violence campaigners, the lead on the project has instead been given to a psychologist who previously denied the existence of feminicide as a phenomenon.

As such, it is unsurprising that the project fails to reach the root of the problem – the contempt towards women which ensures that it is most often towards their female partners that men direct their anger, and that explains why women and girls are much less likely to express anger or fear in the same way. Furthermore, it reinforces the myth of the ‘raptus’ (crime of passion) which asserts that men kill women when overwhelmed with emotion, and thus alleviates them of some responsibility, when in the vast majority of cases such murders are premeditated.

There has also been a tendency among community figures and the media to appeal to a traditional Christian sense of charity towards the perpetrators in response to the murder of women. Speaking at Giulia Cecchetin’s funeral, the bishop of Padua took a moment to ask all those in attendance to pray for the ‘peace of heart’ of her killer, whilst journalists asked the fathers of both Ms Cecchettin and murdered 15-year-old Chiara Gualzetti whether they had yet found it in themselves to forgive the young men. It is difficult not to feel as though such requests, occurring so soon after the deaths of the women concerned, devalue the lives of these women – there is a hint of arrogance in the assumption of the bishop that he, despite being no relative of Giulia’s, has the right to forgive.

However, whilst these requests from a place of benevolence, not all have demonstrated such empathy towards Giulia’s family. “Giulia Cecchettin, now you have us fed up” was the title of an article with 51 thousand views, in which the author lamented the “total lack of restraint” on the part of her camera-hungry relatives, whilst the family of Ms Cecchettin recently filed two police complaints following a tirade of abuse and threats online.

It was a reporter for the daily newspaper Fatto Quotidiano who, on the November 22, first discovered a number of old Facebook posts and Youtube videos published by Emanuele Compagno, the barrister hired to serve as Mr. Turetta’s defence. In them the young lawyer made a number of incendiary claims, arguing passionately for greater leniency towards rapists by asserting that they, being in a state of sexual excitement, no longer have control of, and so do not bear full responsibility for, their actions.

While Compagno was subsequently replaced, his comments are illustrative, feminists argue, of the deep rooted maschilismo (or, male chauvinism) permeating Italian society, up to and including the legal system. Earlier in 2023, judges ruled that the groping of a teenage girl by a caretaker at her school did not constitute a crime, as the act occurred for under ten seconds, whilst in 2019, 200 people took to the street after two men were acquitted of sexual assault despite medical evidence as the judge deemed that the female victim was too ‘masculine’ and thus unattractive to be raped.

Patriarchal culture is such in Italy that despite being surrounded by cases of misogynistic violence, many fail to see the connection between individual murders of women, and institutional prejudice against them. Loud voices proclaim that the patriarchy does not exist – gender roles are so ingrained in Italy that to believe that is not so say that men and women hold equal roles in society, but that the inequality between men and women is so natural as to not constitute inequality at all. For one’s first response to the murder of a young woman to be to attack those speaking out in her name reveals a lack of empathy with women, which forms the basis of male domination in Italy and beyond. Feminist author Alessia Dulbecco told the Financial Times that “it’s a cultural problem…  if a girl goes to the police station and says that my man is hurting me, they say, ‘but what have you done to provoke him?’

A new law targeting crimes of male violence against women was introduced shortly after Giulia’s death, having been approved by the Chamber prior to the crime but sped through the Senate following the scandal provoked by the discovery of her body. This measure streamlines certain domestic violence cases in court, increases the penalty for violating restraining orders, and provides for the training of police officers and investigators who may deal with cases of domestic violence.

However, the framing of these provisions as preventative measures has been criticised for intentional misdirection. Such measures would only aid women who, unlike Giulia, had concrete proof that their partners were capable of causing them serious harm, and moreover, the President of the Women Against Violence Network argued, “the so-called ‘training initiatives’ [for members of law enforcement agencies] are not clear. And, without widespread, constant and adequately funded training, they risk being yet another declaration of intent without concrete finalization”. Beyond these concerns is the worry that any attempted ‘training’ would fall on death ears for those who fundamentally do not care about women’s suffering. What is needed is a profound cultural change, and one which goes beyond what ‘emotional education’ can offer.

Giulia Cecchettin was not the last woman to be killed in November.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.