In many cases, violence affects children as well. The cafeteria worker lived for seven months with her four children in a shelter for abused women run by nuns, protected by window bars and a high gate, outside of which her husband, a teacher, waited for them almost every day. A judge allowed him to see their children twice a week, although he was diagnosed with mental problems.
The children had to see the father on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, and also for several years to attend the summer camps he organized. But the required visits were halted last September, when their 13-year-old son physically attacked the father in front of the school, screaming that he was a monster and should leave his sisters alone, and three of the children said that their father had groped them repeatedly and forced the girls to kiss him on the lips.
“The phenomenon is not taken seriously,” said Marcella Pirrone, a lawyer and a pioneer activist in Italy for women’s rights. “Data are gathered by women’s associations and not by the central government, and Italy has only 100 shelters in a country of over 60 million people. There should be six times as many.”
One of those is run by Cristina Ercoli, who manages a Roman center run by Differenza Donna, an association that offers shelters across the country and also helped the mother of four.
“Women are commodities for such men,” she said, speaking from years of experience. “They reduce their wives in slavery, taking their dignity away. Violence is a normal consequence of this culture that we are fighting every day.”
Italy had its last Minister for Equal Opportunities in 2013; the ministry was abolished and its officials have been reassigned, and policies to combat gender violence or grant women’s rights and equal pay were left with no central coordination.
The current populist government, a coalition led by two parties, the League and the Five Star Movement, chose a man for the downgraded position of under secretary for equal opportunities.