“No leniency for the molesting worms who raped a tourist,” Interior Minister Matteo Salvini tweeted on Wednesday. “Guaranteed jail time and chemical castration!”
— Matteo Salvini (@matteosalvinimi) March 27, 2019
The case concerns three Sicilian men who are accused of gang-raping an 19-year-old American woman in the city of Catania earlier this month. The suspects, reported to be aged between 19 and 20, were arrested last week having been identified from videos filmed throughout the evening on the group's phones.
According to the alleged victim, who had been working as an au pair for a local family for three months, she met the men in a bar on the evening of March 15th and, on the pretext of going to another bar together, they forced her into a car and drove to a remote area where they took turns to assault her.
Phone records published in the Italian press show that the woman repeatedly attempted to call the emergency number 112 and even 911, the US equivalent, during the almost two hours she says she was in the car, but the men allegedly cut off her calls. Fragments of the attack were reportedly recorded in WhatsApp voice messages that she sent to try to alert a friend, in which TGCOM24 reports that she can be heard to say “Help, help, I'm in a car” and “No, enough, I don't want to, I don't want to”.
Catania in eastern Sicily. Photo: Marie-Laure Messana/AFP
The men themselves filmed the attack on their phones, according to the woman, who says that one of them contacted her on social media the following day to ask if she wanted to go out again.
She reported the attack to the Italian police later that day and has since returned to the United States, reported Repubblica.
Lawyers for the suspects complain that their clients, who have been named in the Italian press alongside pictures taken from their Facebook profiles, are being unfairly tried in the media. Maria Luisa Ferrari, a lawyer for one of the three suspects, told Repubblica that “a picture is emerging of 19-year-old boys who wanted to have fun and who lost control”.
That defence is unlikely to win sympathy from those who say Italy regularly fails to deliver justice for violence against women.
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Outcry over a series of recent rulings, including one court's decision to clear two men of rape because the woman was judged “too masculine” to be sexually attractive and another judge's leniency towards a man who murdered his wife on the grounds that she “humiliated” him by having an affair, last week prompted the government to propose tougher sentences for attacks on women and children.
Italy is currently debating whether to introduce an amendment that would allow men convicted of a sexual offence to opt for drug treatment designed to inhibit their sex drive – so-called chemical castration – in exchange for a suspended sentence. The proposal has been criticized by both women's rights defenders and doctors.
Italian police were criticized for their handling of another high-profile rape case in 2017 involving two Americans in Florence, who reported being raped by on-duty carabinieri officers. Lawyers for the accused tried to paint the women as heavy-drinking and promiscuous, asking them questions such as “Were you wearing underwear that night?” and “Do you find men in uniform sexy?”
One man was sentenced to four years and eight months for the Florence attack, while the other is due to go on trial in May.
In Catania, mayor Salvo Pogliese said the American victim had “the deepest solidarity of the local community, which strongly condemns an extremely serious act that has hurt not only her dignity but Catania's reputation”.
Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP