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Murder in Calabria: Fabiana's fate shames Italy

A teenager's brutal homicide heightens debate over attitudes to violence against women

When 16-year-old Fabiana Luzzi said "no" last week to her 17-year-old boyfriend's demands for sex, he wasn't satisfied, and so he stabbed her repeatedly, apparently in a jealous rage, and dragged her 15 yards to leave her bleeding under a fig tree in the Calabrian countryside. He wandered off, returned an hour later with a five-litre can of petrol, and burnt her to death, even as she pleaded for her life.

The boy has confessed to the crime to magistrates, in the town of Corigliano Calabro in the far south of Italy. Some press reports said he has shown little remorse, lending credence to notions of a one-off attack committed by a psychopath. It seems likely, however, that Fabiana had already been the victim of domestic violence at his hands. Neighbours reported regular bruises. So the horrific death of Fabiana Luzzi has been added to the growing list of murders and violent attacks committed by men against their partners or ex-partners.

A third of women in Italy report being victims of serious domestic violence, according to a 2012 UN report citing data from the Italian statistics agency Istat. Italian press reports claim the incidents are becoming more numerous, although in the absence of a systematic collection of such incidents, the real number is unknown.

The examples of violence are certainly many and horrible, including a recent spate of acid attacks. Last month it emerged that one young woman disfigured by such an attack had been raped a few years earlier by the same ex-partner.

At least Italy's lower chamber of parliament this week voted to ratify the Istanbul treaty on combating violence against women. All 545 MPs voted in favour of the Council of Europe convention, making Italy the fifth country to ratify it after Montenegro, Albania, Turkey and Portugal. Anna Costanza Baldry, a psychology professor and adviser to the anti-stalking organisation Differenza Donna, said, however: "Words are not enough. Now we need action." She called for a nationwide provision of state-funded shelters, with legal assistance plus psychological and employment support. She added that ensuring the authorities begin taking all complaints and incidents seriously is also vital.

The ability of a systematic approach, and one that involves victims' employers, to cut levels of violence was expounded by Baroness Scotland at a conference on domestic violence in Milan-Bicocca University on Friday. Italy is not the only country with worrying levels of domestic violence. But the problem here contrasts particularly sharply with its status as one of Europe's safest societies. So why are women bearing the brunt?

Indifference, possibly. On Monday evening, Italy's lower chamber of parliament was virtually empty as its delegate, Mara Carfagna, reported back from the international Istanbul conference. A bitter row ensued between Ms Carfagna and one of the few parliamentarians who bothered to turn up, the anti-establishment Five Star Movement's Carla Ruocco. Ms Ruocco made the provocative, but not entirely groundless, remark that Ms Carfagna, as the former topless model who'd caught the ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi's eye and obtained a place in his government, lacked any credibility, explaining the empty chamber.

Ms Carfagna has, to the surprise of many, turned out to be one of the more able, intelligent and liberal parliamentarians on the centre-right. But many still regard the nature of her career progression as an ugly indictment of how Italian society regards women. "I don't want to judge individual women and how they have made their careers," said Ms Baldry. "But it all suggests that for women it's not about their brains or talent but about how they look. And on TV and in magazines there's an impression of women as objects."

Nicole Minetti, Mr Berlusconi's former dental hygienist, enjoyed a similar route into regional politics, as well as helping host the tycoon's adult soirées at his house in Arcore. Even leaving aside the examples set by Mr Berlusconi, the antediluvian portrayal of women is everywhere. Striscia La Notizia, Italian television's leading political satire show, employs two scantily clad young ladies to dance at the start of the show before draping themselves over the ends of the (male) presenters' desks like concubines. Last week, Josefa Idem, the equal opportunities minister, announced she wanted a crackdown on sexism in the media and even fines for companies that produce sexist advertising.

Marina Calloni, professor of social and political philosophy at Milan-Bicocca University, is one feminist who says that practical measures to help victims of violence, along with wholesale change in how Italian society views women, are needed to turn things around.

Experts say another major factor in the upsurge in violence against women in countries such as Italy is, ironically, the degree of progress women have already made towards gaining greater independence. "More women are ending bad relationships and go alone," said Ms Baldry.

"And it's no coincidence that most of these attacks and murders are committed by ex-partners." She said women were not going to give up this independence, making changing the society's attitudes more pressing than ever.