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‘Almost satanic’: Pope denounces domestic violence after surge in Italy

Pope Francis described domestic violence as something "almost satanic" in an interview with Italian television on Monday, after a sharp rise in reports in Italy since the Covid pandemic began.

Pope Francis denounced domestic violence as ‘almost satanic’ in an interview on Sunday.
Pope Francis denounced domestic violence as ‘almost satanic’ in an interview on Sunday. ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP

Pope Francis was referring to “the great number of women who are beaten, abused at home, even by their husbands,” in comments to TG5 during a special programme broadcast Sunday evening.

Cases of domestic violence soared during the lockdowns imposed to try to stem the spread of the coronavirus in Italy.

According to a recent report from Italy’s national statistics agency Istat, more than 15,000 women sought help from the country’s anti-violence centres, or Cavs, in 2020.

More than 90 percent (approximately 13,700) were first-time users of the service.

Compared to the same period in 2019, the first nine months of 2020 saw a significant increase in the number of reports of domestic violence from women who feared threats to their own life or that of a loved one (3,583 versus 2,663), the report said.

READ ALSO: Code Red: Italian prosecutors flooded by reports of domestic violence and sexual abuse

However, for 74.2 percent of the women who sought help from Cavs over the course of 2020 (approximately 7,700 individuals), the violence did not originate with the pandemic but was pre-existing.

40.6 percent had experienced violence for more than five years, and 33.5 percent for between one and five years.

Since January 2021, 112 women have been killed in Italy, according to interior ministry figures. More than half of the murders were perpetrated by a current or former partner.

In his interview on Sunday, Pope Francis was filmed talking to people including a survivor of domestic abuse. They discussed issues such as violence, poverty and the fallout from the pandemic, AFP reports.

READ ALSO: Twelve statistics that show how the pandemic has hit Italy’s quality of life

“It’s a problem which, to my eyes, is almost satanic,” he told one of his interlocutors, a woman who with her children had had to flee her violent husband.

“Because it is taking advantage of the weakness of someone who can’t defend themselves.”

Comparing the suffering of abused women with that of Mary, the mother of Christ, who had to witness his crucifixion, he argued that she had never lost her dignity.

Advising the woman to draw strength from that example, he told her: “I see a lot of dignity in you, for if you had lost your dignity, you wouldn’t be here.”

Pope Francis has on several occasions denounced violence against women, last year comparing it to a “profanation”.

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EQUALITY

11 statistics that show the state of gender equality in Italy

On International Women's Day, The Local looks what it's like to be a woman in Italy today by the numbers.

11 statistics that show the state of gender equality in Italy
Demonstrators at the 2018 International Women's Day march in Rome. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP
  • Italy’s gender pay gap is under five percent; the fourth-lowest in the EU after Slovenia, Romania, and Luxembourg, according to Eurostat. However, while this sounds like good news, the low gender pay gap is closely connected to Italy’s high female unemployment rate and the fact that wages in Italy are below the EU average.

  • Fewer than half of working-age Italian women are employed. “The female employment rate is very very low, under 50 percent,” Italian statistics bureau Istat director Linda Laura Sabbadini stated when presenting the latest employment data in September 2021. “In Germany, to give an idea, the number stands at 75 percent. And when it comes to the employment of young women aged 25 to 34, we are in the last place in Europe”.
  • Women in Italy earn 16,000 euros a year on average. Of those who are employed, the average take-home pay for women was 16,285 compared to 23,859 for men. This means women earned almost a third less than men, though the number of paid working days recorded was only slightly lower for women. This wage inequality is linked to the prevalence of women in part-time jobs: 73.4 percent of part-time workers are women, according to Istat data from 2019.
  • Around 62 percent of Italian women’s work each day is unpaid, according to the World Economic Forum’s latest report, compared to 30 percent for Italian men. Women in Italy work longer than men on average – 512 minutes per day compared to 453 minutes – yet are more likely to be unemployed or work part-time.

READ ALSO: ‘Design a fairer country’: How post-Covid reforms could help close Italy’s gender gap

  • Women retire later and on lower pensions. Lower incomes translate to lower pensions. In the first half of 2021, monthly pensions paid to men in Italy were €498 higher at €1,429, compared to €931 for women, according to data from Italian social security office INPS. Almost twice as many men were able to retire early: 79,935 with an average pension of €2,104. For women, the number was 44,204 getting an average of €1,609.
  • 43 percent of Italy’s government is female. The cabinet of Prime Minister Mario Draghi is made up of eight women and 12 men, This sounds like an improvement on many previous governments, but most of the female ministers are without portfolio. The number of female prime ministers or presidents in Italy, meanwhile, is still a big fat zero.

READ ALSO: Why are there so few women in Italy’s most powerful jobs?

  • More than half of all Italians getting a degree are women. Nearly 59 percent of bachelor’s graduates are women, according to the OECD, while women make up just over 52 percent of PhD grads, according to national statistics office Istat.
  • Almost half of Italy’s adult women have experienced sexual harassment, says Istat. An estimated 8.2 million Italian women aged between 14 and 65 – close to 44 percent – have experienced sexual harassment in their lifetime, perpetrated in 97 percent of cases by men. An estimated 1.4 million women, or just under nine percent of the age group, reported experiencing physical harassment or sexual blackmail at work. 
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  • In 2017, 119 women in Italy were murdered, according to police figures. This is up from 117 in 2020 and 109 in 2019. In 59 percent of cases, the killer was a former or current partner, and 81 percent of murders took place at home or in a family setting.
  • Reports of stalking have doubled since 2019. In 2021, 15,720 women called 1522, the freephone number for reporting incidents of sexual violence and stalking. The number of reports has almost doubled since 2019 (8,427). Some 3.5 million women in Italy have been victims of stalking at least once between the ages of 16 and 70, equivalent to 16 percent. According to Istat, 2.2 million of these women were stalked by an ex. 
  • Women in Italy have an average life expectancy of 84.4 years, Istat says. Men are expected to live to 79.7, after the number dropped in 2020.