A bill aimed at tackling domestic and gender-based violence became law in Italy as it was passed by the Senate on Wednesday.
The so-called “codice rosso” or code red law was drafted by the ruling coaltiion government in response to the high rates of violence against women in Italy.
There have been shockingly high numbers of reported attacks on women including femicides – cases in which women are murdered, usually by their current or former partners – in Italy in recent years.
Italian police said there was one femicide every two days in Italy between 2006 and 2016.
The new law promises tougher penalties, including longer prison sentences, for the perpetrators of violence, sexual abuse and stalking.
The maximum prison sentence for those convicted of domestic abuse increased to seven years, from a previous six. Stalking now carries a maximum sentence of 6.5 years instead of five.
The law also criminalises acid attacks and revenge porn – neither of which were previously criminal offences in Italy.
It raises the maximum sentences for group assaults from twelve to fourteen years, and removes the obligation of the victim to press charges in child rape cases, allowing the state to bring its own charges against the perpetrator.
It also means cases will be dealt with by courts as a priority and investigations will be fast-tracked, ministers said.
The new law states that those reporting incidents of domestic or gender-based violence will be summoned to a court hearing within three days.
The bill was passed with 197 votes and 47 abstentions
Those abstaining including members of the opposition Democratic Party (PD), which slammed the bill as a “missed opportunity” and said the text, drafted by the ruling coalition government, “needed improvement.”
PD leaders said in a blog post that a focus on heavier penalties wasn't enough, and that wider measures were needed.
Gender-based violence is “a structural phenomenon which shows no sign of diminishing, which has its roots in a deep and persistent disparity of power between men and women and in the patriarchal organisation of society,” it said. “It is a complex and, in the end, cultural issue.”
PD also complained that no extra financial resources had been provided, writing: “How can you fight violence against women at no cost?”
And womens' groups said that speeding up court hearings for those who report violence was not necessarily a good idea.
“The magistrate should hear the person reporting violence only if necessary and when they are ready – whether three, four, ten or twenty days have passed since the complaint was received,” Manuela Ulivi, lawyer and president of the Cadmi womens' shelter in Milan, told Italian media.
The real problem, she pointed out, is that “women often do not report because they are afraid of not being believed.”
“The hearing would then force them to repeat painful stories already detailed in a complaint,” she said. “If police and carabinieri are prepared, the initial report can be more than enough for the investigation.”