Diritto Criminologia e criminalistica

The Phenomenon of Domestic Violence Against Women and the Role of the Italian Carabinieri and Police in the Fight Against Domestic Violence and its Prevention

(by Jolanta Grębowiec-Baffoni[i])

Polish-English translation by Karolina Iwaszuk



In recent years, the media have dedicated a lot of space to the phenomena of violence against women. Almost each day the mass media inform us about murders, rapes and other forms of physical and psychological violence, whose victims are women. In contrast, the observation of the overall outcome of statistics regarding murders seems to moderate the situation of tension, because basing on these data we can notice an overall downward trend in the number of all murders, including those of women.

Although the data indicate the overall downward trend in murders of women, yet the statistics contain another increasingly worrying phenomenon, namely an increase in murders of women in family environments or murders of passion. According to statistics, in 2011 it was recorded that 70.8% of such crimes against women are committed by their partners or members of close and immediate family[ii]. However, according to theEures-Ansa report, in the first half of 2013, 81 women were killed, of which 75% of murders had afamily or emotional context. The tragedy of domestic murders are committed most often by partners, who are authorsof 66.3% of these crimes. A large part of this group, that is 17.6% (257 homicides),is represented by ex-partners, who cannot accept the departure of their “own” women. The first three months after leaving their partner is for women a period of the highest risk, since within the said time there have beenobserved 47.2% of homicides committed by the abandoned men.

But we cannot forget that murders are not the only type of violence against women. Researches and authoritative analysis of data collected by the media, non-governmental organizations and numerous associations, show an increase in cases of discrimination and violence against women in Italy. Data from 2010 report on 150 thousand of such crimes, giving an average results of 290 crimes per day. The numberof various crime cited by statistical publicationsappear to be disturbing, and so according to these data every day an average of 185 women submit a denunciation of threats or insults, 83 women are victims of severe beating, 14 are victims of stalking, and 10 are victims of rape.

The Italian Minister of Justice, Anna Maria Cancellieri, expressed her deep concern when commenting on the growing phenomenon of feminicide and overall violence against them. She said that “If on the one hand, we can observe some kind of stabilization in the number of homicides, on the other, it should be noted that the number of murders of women mainly in their family environment has sadly an increasing character.”

In her further statement Minister Cancellieri stressed the need to assess and test concrete ways of fighting with these forms of crime. […] In order to combat this terrible phenomenon –we need to conduct studies on social mechanisms, relation models underlying the family unit. […] I am convinced – added the Minister – that one of the most important answers should be provided by institutions at a cultural level and this is the level at which we should impact with the utmost force to prevent and support the victims[iii].

International Charter of Women’s Rights

Murders and general violence against women are not the exclusive concern of Italy. Each day all over the world there are registered cases of various forms of women’s abuse, and in many other countries violence against women is still tolerated by law. Given the tragic phenomenon of violence against women, the Fourth World Conference of the United Nations Organization held in 1995, defined it as a historical manifestation of relations expressing unequal balance of power between men and women[iv].

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly is commonly understood as an international charter of women’s rights. In accordance to art. 1 of the Convention, discrimination includes gender-based violence and causes harm, physical, mental and sexual abuse suffering, threats, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty.

Italy ratified CEDAW on 10 June 1985, adopting a duty to remind of the civil rights of women, of the elimination of all situations of discrimination, not only by changing laws, but also by promoting cultural change, giving women that freedom of choice, taking care of her mental and physical integrity are absolute values.

In the face of alarming data regarding the maltreatment of women in Italy, the UN definition of the problem and the UN Convention concerning violence against women were included in the Communicate of senators issued on 29 May 2013 to the Presidency of the Senate, emphasizing the need to promote the role of women in society and fight against any form of violence towards them. The communicate focused, among others, on the issue of domestic violence, which gradually becomes a negative form of relationship, especially between partners but also between parents and children, as the social dimension of violence. Conducted within this area investigations and medical expertise proved that only a small part of the assailants suffer from a more or less permanent mental dysfunctions (alcoholics, drug addicts, people with other mental health problems). Violence against women and generally domestic violence is a phenomenon present in various social groups and environments, so in order to prevent it, it is particularly important to understand the reasons why normal citizens, performing their professional and social duties with full commitment, men with normal or above-average level of culture, carry out an attack on the identity of their spouses, life companions and brides, why do they hurt their daughters and mothers, why do they try to humiliate and destroy them?

The new image of a woman in Italy

Analysis of literature in the field of Italian social history allows us to understand that a woman until recently was completely submissive to a man performing the role of the head of a family (father or husband) and having a total control over her[v]. The confirmation of this state of things are some of the acts of the former though quite recent Italian legislation. The Family Code from 1865 stated that women had no right to custody over her legitimate children. Married women could not manage the money they earned as a result of their work or they did not have right to dispose their own goods acquired from the family home. Men were those who had rights to decide on the allocation of the money earned by their women as well as of the goods belonging to them[vi]. In addition, art. 486 of the Penal Code from the same period provided imprisonment penalty for a woman who occasionally cheated her husband while simultaneously sucha penalty did not refer to men[vii]. The new Penal Code of 1930 maintained the discussed legal standards in relation to women, adding to them art. 587, which provided a reduction in penalty by one-third, for “anyone who will murder his wife, daughter or sister in order to protect his own or his family’s honor”[viii] (so-called honor killing). The article 587 functioned in Italian legal system until 1981[ix].

A new image of Italian women emerging from mid-seventies of the twentieth century is an image of an independent woman who aspires to self-realization, who is able to make independent decisions about her own life. However, despite significant changes in the understanding of the role and function of women in the Italian society, this new image is still often not accepted by some conservative circles. The reasons for this lack of acceptance can stem from the rapidity with which thedefenseless woman, until recently, has evolved into a fully-fledged citizen, who aims to implement the rights guaranteed by the legislation. While active in other European countries feminist movements, or even ideologies of communist countries promoted the role and importance of women in society and sought to align their ability to work with the abilities of men, at the same time statistical Italian woman, deprived of the rights to decide about herself, functioned next to her husband and her role was confined to being a wife, mother, and a care-taker of her family[x].

Against the background of the recent situation, the current image of the “new Italian woman” has been sketched on the basis of the image of women from other European countries. Nevertheless, the sudden transformation process of her role makes the society often not keep pace with the changes occurring in the women’s image. Hence a woman, or rather the new functions and relations in the dynamic transformation often become the cause of conflicts in her own environment. The phenomenon of women’s emancipation, the fastest growing in the north of Italy, often painfully collides with the trends of the past, transferred, along with immigrants from southern regions of the country, faithful cultivators of traditions originating from the previous era. Therefore, a traditional society that cannot keep up with new roles of women and their rights, offers them their own “women-dedicated culture”, often of outrageously mediocre quality, unable to accept the image of a new woman, “new” that is different. In fact, following the statistics and the daily criminal chronicles, it turns out that the suddenly awakened and “rebellious” female part of the population of the regions of northern Italy is the most vulnerable to death from the hand of “loving” man.

The lowest levels of violence against women are recorded in the southern regions of the country. Those regions are deprived of some of the cultural influences of the rest of Europe, where entrenched old traditions, passed on faithfully from generation to generation, pushing life slowly according to its own regulations. Those are regions where the new image of a woman emerges almost shyly, on its own slow pace, from old habits, entering hesitantly families, schools and workplaces.

Italian dispositional groups in the fight against domestic violence

Dispositional groups directly involved in the fight and prevention of domestic violence are the troops of the Italian Carabinieri and Police.

Carabinieri is an institution in the military ordination established in 1814 by King Vittorio Emanuele, the corps serves both military and police functions and is responsible to the Ministry of National Defense. TheCarabinieri corps are present throughout the country and currently consists of 539 companies and 4626 posts, which are directly responsible for control over a territory. Very often Carabinieriofficers are reported on family dramas concerning domestic violence that require direct action of the corps. This phenomenon manifests itself in various forms, including threats, beatings, rapes, economic violence, extortion, but also murders.

Very often this type of violence is not reported by anyone.

For this reason government decided to establish a function of the district Carabinieri officer, whose task is a more direct contact with citizens. Carabinieri district officers are obliged to observe the districtsthey are responsible for, and gather information in order to start investigation when necessary.

The presence of the district Carabinieri officer is intended to strengthen a sense of security among citizens. In terms of prevention of violence Carabiniericorps cooperate with different institutions.

Moving on to the State Police, its origins dates back to 1848, when the Kingdom of Sardinia founded a corps known under the name of the Administration of Public Security, whose task was “to stand on watch and guarantee security of law and order in the interest of the public and private sectors.” Although over the years, the name of the corps and its range have been repeatedly reorganized,it maintained its objectives and tasks, being responsible to the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

In 1946, the State Police mobile units have been established and given the functions of providing protection of public order. Gradually corps like Road Police, Railway Police, Postal Police, Border Police have been establish within the State Police.

In 1959 while facing the need of prevention of crimes against children and women and those offending morality and honor Italian authorities founded the Female Police Corps of civil ordination. In 1981 the corps was liquidated and its staff transferred to the State Police.

Given the long experience and the meaning of the Carabinieri and the Police is essential to determine the means that are at the disposal of the Carabinieri and Police corps in the fight against domestic violence, particularly against women and possible preventive measures and to test their effectiveness in reducing the phenomenon of domestic violence in Italy and in other countries.


[i] Jolanta Grębowiec Baffoni – Chair of Dispositional Groups, Institute of Sociology, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Wroclaw, Poland



[iv]Senate of the Italian Republic, 17th Legislature, bill of act no. 724, report on the initiative of senators to presidium – May 29, 2013; http://www.senato.it/leg/17/BGT/Testi/Ddlpres/00703056.html

[v]M. Barbagli, Sotto lo stessotetto, ilMulino, Bologna 1984, p. 82

[vi]Codicecivile del Regnod’Italia 1865, Libro I, tit. V, CAPO IX. Dei diritti e deidoverichenascono dal matrimonio. (On the Rights and Duties originating from Marriage) SEZIONE I. Dei diritti e deidoverideiconiugifraloro (On the Bilateral Rights and Duties of Spouses)

[vii]B. Bertani, Donne e Risorgimento: unastoriataciuta (Women and Risorgimento movement: an unsaid story) [in;] Minerva, Redazione Minerva, Rome 2010

[viii]Penal Code of 1930 r. (so-called. Codice di “Rocco”).

[ix]G. Cardellini, Separacja i rozwód we Włoszech. Kwiestie w rozporządzeniudziećmimałoletnimi (Separation and Divorce in Italy, The Issue of Custody Over Under-Aged Children) [in:] Z. Kegel (ed.) Współczesna Kryminalistyka i nauki pokrewne w administracji (ContemporaryCriminalistics and RelatedDisciplines), Wydawnictwo Uczelniane Państwowej Wyższej Szkoły Zawodowej im.A. Silesiusa, Wałbrzych 2013, p. 39 (translated from Italian by J. Grębowiec-Baffoni)

[x]In comparison,even when discussing the right of women to vote we can easily notice that Italian women were one of the last in Europe to gain the right. In Poland, a country ravaged by years of partition and World War I, women were given the right to vote in 1918, just as German and Austrian women, women in the US received such a right in 1920 and women from England and Northern Ireland were given the right to vote in 1928. In Italy a woman has gained the right to vote in 1945. However, the right to vote still did not give Italian women their personal freedom; http://www.ipu.org/wmn-e/suffrage .htm