The evolution of Italian legislation on violence against women takes its starting point from the ratification of the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Law No. 77 of 2013); following the ratification, Italy made a series of interventions aimed at establishing an integrated strategy to combat violence in the wake traced by the Convention. The first intervention in this sense was made by Decree-Law No. 93 of 2013, adopted a few months after the ratification of the Convention, which made significant changes in the criminal and procedural spheres and provided for the periodic adoption of Action Plans against gender-based violence.
However, Italy adopts a narrower definition of domestic violence than the definition used in the Istanbul Convention. In Article 3 of Legislative Decree no. 93/2013, it is stated that “domestic violence is defined as (one or more acts, serious or non-episodic), of physical, sexual, psychological or economic violence occurring within the family or household (or between persons currently or formerly bound by a marriage bond or affectionate relationship), regardless of whether the perpetrator of such acts shares or has shared the same residence with the victim.”
In the 18th legislature, the Parliament has continued to adopt measures to combat violence against women, mainly pursuing the objectives of crime prevention and victim protection, and at the same time made it easier to get punished for so-called gender crimes.
The measure that has most affected the fight against gender-based violence is Law No. 69 of 2019 (so-called red code), which has strengthened the procedural protections of victims of violent crimes, with particular reference to crimes of sexual and domestic violence, introduced some new offences in the Criminal Code (including the crime of deforming the appearance of the person by permanently injuring the face, the crime of unlawful dissemination of sexually explicit images or videos and the crime of coercion or induction into marriage) and increased the penalties for crimes that are most frequently committed against female victims (ill-treatment, persecutory acts, sexual violence). The Criminal Procedure Reform Act (Act No. 134 of 2021) also provided for a better and longer protection of victims of domestic and gender-based violence, while Act No. 53 of 2022 strengthened the collection of statistical data on gender-based violence through better coordination of all actors involved.
In the current legislature, Act No. 12 of 2023 established a bicameral Commission of Inquiry on Femicide, as well as on all forms of gender-based violence (the Commission was established at the session of 26 July 2023) and Act No. 122 of 2023 intervenes on one of the aspects characterising the procedure to be followed in proceedings for crimes of domestic and gender violence, namely the obligation for the public prosecutor to take information from the offended person or from the person who reported the facts of the crime within three days of the registration of the news of the crime. The aforementioned Law no. 122 states that if the public prosecutor has not complied with the above-mentioned deadline, he may withdraw the assignment of the proceedings to the designated magistrate and take information without delay from the offended person or the complainant either directly or by assignment to another magistrate in the office.
A government bill (A.C. 1294) is currently being examined in the Chamber of Deputies to introduce further provisions to combat violence against women and domestic violence, through regulations affecting both the strengthening of the protection of victims and the prevention of the phenomenon.
2. Law enforcement and protective orders
Since July 2019, Law No. 69 was passed in Parliament, which strengthens the protection of all those who suffer violence, persecution, and ill-treatment. This law has been referred to as ‘ Red Code ‘ and was recently strengthened with new regulations in force from 9 December 2023. Among the changes in the procedural sphere, there is a sprint to start criminal proceedings for certain crimes: among others, family abuse, stalking, sexual violence, with the effect that any measures to protect victims will be taken more quickly. The main changes are:
Already present in the law, it has been strengthened by Law Decree 168/2023 so that the Chief of Police may proceed even in the absence of a complaint, once the necessary information about the crime committed has been gathered. Moreover, this measure is also extended to other forms of domestic violence that were not previously provided for, such as the illicit dissemination of sexually explicit videos or images. A definition of witnessing violence, suffered by minors in the presence of domestic violence, is also introduced.
A warning cannot be cancelled before three years have passed since it was issued and without the warned person undergoing a recovery process.
The penalties for offences committed that are related to domestic violence have also been increased and now include more offences than previously.
The use of electronic bracelets is also introduced for domestic violence offences that were not previously provided for, such as attempted murder, grievous bodily harm and permanent facial injury, and sexual violence.
The court can now require the defendant to respect a safe distance, 500 m, from the offended person and from places the victim habitually frequents. Basically, these measures are now mandatory and not optional and can be taken by emergency measure. The electronic bracelet becomes compulsory and in case of refusal to wear it by the defendant, a compulsory coercive measure (imprisonment) is ordered.
In addition, in the event of violation of these emergency regulations, arrest is also provided for outside cases of flagrante delicto and imprisonment of up to five years.
PRECAUTIONARY MEASURES AND COURT PROCEEDINGS
For both court proceedings and precautionary measures, the highest urgency and absolute priority is demanded. For this reason, the timeframe within which the Public Prosecutor must submit his application (30 days) and the timeframe within which the Judge may request a precautionary measure (20 days) have been tightened. A measure was also introduced to encourage the specialisation of magistrates in the field of domestic violence.
Very important is the introduction of deferred flagrante delicto arrest (Art. 10), i.e. the possibility to arrest a person who commits a crime of domestic violence even if not caught in the act. It applies to persons who have already been cautioned.
Emergency removal from the family home is strengthened with the introduction of additional subparagraphs not previously provided for. In some cases, such removal may be ordered by the prosecutor even if it is not in flagrante delicto, i.e. if the defendant has already been cautioned.
As a result of this decree, the political delegate for Equal Opportunities will have to set up accreditation paths for the associations and organisations responsible for providing recovery courses for perpetrators of domestic violence.
Victims, if they give their consent, will be put in contact with anti-violence centres for help.
Training courses will be set up to recognise violence against women also for the health sector specifically for all staff dealing with offended persons.
3. Support for victims
A National Anti-Violence Network exists in Italy to support women victims of violence. It is a project to support women victims of violence that offers a ‘call centre’ service through the telephone number: ‘1522’.
Operators provide victims, ensuring their anonymity, with psychological and legal support, as well as indications of public and private facilities in the area to which they can turn.
The multilingual service, active 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, provides an immediate initial response to victims and contributes to the emergence of requests for help encouraged by the guarantee of anonymity.
According to the surveys carried out by ISTAT and CNR, there were 264 active Refuge Houses in Italy as of 31 December 2017; of these, 210 (79.5% of the total) were indicated by the regions to the Department for Equal Opportunities. They are heterogeneously distributed throughout the national territory: 61.4% in the North, 17.8% in the Centre and 21.8% in the South. The greater concentration of these facilities in some areas of the country corresponds to their rarefaction – if not absence – in others.
Almost all of the refugee homes (with percentages above 90%) provide services ranging from employment guidance to legal support and counselling, from psychological assistance to support for independent living, from drafting a safety plan to risk assessment.
- These services are in 94% of cases free of charge, and delivered in-house or by anti-violence centres. The latter mode prevails for the shelters indicated by the regions, while in the case of the other facilities the service provider is more often the refuge house staff itself.
- The level of organisation in the provision of services differs greatly by geographical area, so much so that it is possible to identify, with reference to the services provided by almost all the Refuge Houses, 3 different models:
- the northern model tends to have the anti-violence centre with which the refuge home has a privileged relationship provide certain services for the women guests, in particular legal support and counselling, employment guidance and psychological support and reception;
- the southern model to a rather large degree tends to manage internally (in-house) the provision of certain services, in particular psychological support and counselling, legal counselling, work and housing guidance, and the individual security plan;
- finally, the model in central Italy presents a more balanced distribution of services between the refuge house and the anti-violence centre of reference, with organisational differences depending on the type of service provided (for services such as work and housing guidance, the refuge house is preferred, for psychological and legal counselling the competence of the anti-violence centre tends to prevail, with which there is a facilitated relationship).
Ninety per cent of the refuge houses (and to a greater extent those reported by the regions) ensure, in addition to food and accommodation, other personal care goods, as well as sums of money. The former are provided by 83% of the homes and clothing is guaranteed by 78% of the refuge houses, while small sums for individual expenses and mobile phone expenses are less frequent (66% and 53% respectively).
4. Preventive measures
The Action Plan against gender-based violence
Implementing Article 5 of Decree-Law No. 93 of 2013, the Government adopts extraordinary plans to fight violence against women. The discipline of the Plan has been partly modified recently by article 1, paragraph 149, of the Budget Law 2022 (Law No. 234/2021), which first of all changed its name into Strategic Plan against violence to women and domestic violence.
Following the issuance in 2015 of the first Extraordinary Action Plan, the third National Strategic Plan on male violence against women was recently adopted for the biennium 2021-2023.
The Plan 2021-2023 re-proposes the structure of the previous Plan, with an articulation in 4 thematic axes (prevention, protection and support, prosecution and punishment, assistance and promotion) along the lines indicated by the Istanbul Convention, to each of which specific priorities are linked.
Regarding prevention, priorities are given to the increase of the level of awareness in public opinion and in the educational and training system on causes and consequences of men’s violence against women; the involvement of the private sector (social, platforms, mass media) on the role of stereotypes and sexism, also in relation to cyberviolence and the illicit dissemination of sexually explicit images or videos; the promotion of women’s empowerment the activation of actions to emerge and combat violence against women victims of multiple discrimination; the reinforcement for the prevention of recidivism for men perpetrators of violence; the training of professional figures who, in various capacities, interact with women victims and minors in the path of prevention, support and reintegration; the linking of regulatory measures also in the area of prevention of secondary victimisation.
On the victim protection and support side, the priorities are the taking in charge of women victims of violence and minors who are victims of witnessing violence; the activation of paths of economic-financial empowerment, employment and housing autonomy; the monitoring and improvement of the effectiveness of the ‘Pathways for women who suffer violence’ active at health and hospital facilities; the strengthening of the 1522 national free anti-violence hotline; the protection and psycho-social support of minors who are victims of witnessing violence; the implementation of operational solutions to guarantee access to prevention, support and reintegration services, in particular for women victims of multiple discrimination (migrants, asylum seekers and refugees).
With regard to the axis of prosecute and punish, the priorities are: to guarantee procedures and tools for the protection of women victims of violence that allow an effective and rapid assessment and management of the risk of lethality, reiteration and recidivism; to define a shared model of approach, management and risk assessment within the security department; to improve the effectiveness of judicial proceedings in the application of precautionary measures and suspended sentences; to define guidelines for the analysis and qualitative and quantitative monitoring of the interventions carried out within the programmes for battered men.
Finally, in the field of assistance and promotion, the priorities are the implementation of the integrated information system for the collection and analysis of data on the phenomenon; the implementation of a national monitoring and evaluation system of interventions, policies, activities and resources; the preparation of guidelines, in agreement with the regions, to standardise the qualitative and quantitative standards of the services provided by anti-violence centres, territorial networks and the socio-medical system on a national level; the construction of stable places of comparison and planning for political bodies, institutions and administrative structures; the communication and of regulatory tools and operational interventions in support of women victims of male violence.
Moreover, Article 5-bis of Decree-Law No. 93 of 2013 provides that annually the resources of the Fund for equal opportunities are allocated to the Regions in order to finance forms of assistance and support to women victims of violence and their children, through homogeneous ways of strengthening the network of services territorial services, anti-violence Centres and assistance services (Shelter Houses) to women victims of violence.
Lastly, the Prime Ministerial Decree of 22 September 2022 decreed the distribution of the Fund in favour of the regions andautonomous provinces of Trento and Bolzano for the year 2022.
The resources, in the amount of 30 million euros, were allocated among the Regions and Autonomous Provinces according to the following criteria:
- (a) 15 million for the funding of existing public and private anti-violence centres in each region;
- (b) 15 million for the funding of public and private shelters already existing in each region.
The Department of Equal Opportunities supports communication campaigns to raise public awareness of the phenomenon of men’s violence against women, also in order to promote a correct culture of male-female relations at all ages and with a view to reinforcing the message that a society free of violence and gender stereotypes is a better society.
Campaigns are disseminated through different channels, from television to social media.
Many regions have initiated communication campaigns and awareness-raising activities against violence. Some target a broader public, drawing attention to the phenomenon of violence while others give concrete indications on how to recognise and prevent it, also indicating help services to get out of it.
The most active regions have carried out more initiatives and in many cases the campaigns are the result of joint work between institutions and anti-violence centres.
Also, the role of the University system is crucial in fighting against gender-based violence thanks to the development of specific educational / research / training / advocacy, policies. The Istanbul Convention indicates in several parts the role that the University can play. In Italy, the academic network UN.I.RE (that means “UNIversità In REte contro la violenza”) has been established. UN.I.RE is aimed at promoting and developing teaching, training, research, third mission activities, awareness campaigns, in a national and international perspective. The main aims are: strengthening existing activities; developing new educational initiatives; supporting scientific analyses; increasing the collaboration with different stakeholders at the local level (Institutions, experts, anti-violence centres, professionals, associations); developing international collaborations, with super-national Institutions and European Universities / research Centres. UN.I.RE outputs are: organisation of course curricula, professional courses, seminars, collaboration with associations and NGO, publication of scientific papers and book, and other.
5. Data and research
In recent legislatures, Commissions of Inquiry on the phenomenon of feminicide and gender-based violence have been established in Parliament. In particular, in the Senate, the establishment of the above-mentioned Commissions took place in both the 17th and 18th legislatures. Both Commissions carried out investigations into the multiple aspects of violence against women, the results of which are detailed in the final reports of 6 February 2018 and 6 September 2022. In the 18th legislature, the Commission also published numerous reports on specific topics, touching on issues such as school education, women’s health, genital mutilation, treatment pathways for male perpetrators of violence, funding of anti-violence centres, and domestic violence in the Covid period.
In the current legislature, Law No. 12 of 9 February 2023 (published in the Official Gazette No. 41 of 17 February 2023) was approved, which provides for the establishment of a bicameral Commission of Inquiry on feminicide and all forms of gender-based violence.
The Commission was established at the meeting of 26 July 2023; it is composed of 18 senators and 18 deputies and has the task of
- carry out investigations into the real dimensions and causes of feminicide and, more generally, of all forms of gender-based violence;
- monitor the concrete implementation of the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, as well as any other supranational and international agreements on the subject and national legislation inspired by the same principles, with particular regard to Decree-Law No. 93 of 2013 and Law No. 69 of 2019 (so-called “Red Code”);
- to verify the possible inconsistencies and shortcomings of the relevant legislation in force with respect to the aim of protecting the victim of violence and any minors involved, with a view to its possible revision (with specific reference to the criminal legislation concerning sexual harassment perpetrated in the workplace), as well as to continue the analysis of the episodes of feminicide, which have occurred since 2016, in order to ascertain whether any recurring conditions or behaviour can be found, which can be assessed statistically, in order to guide prevention action;
- check the level of attention and capacity to intervene of the authorities and public administrations competent to carry out prevention and assistance activities;
- verify, as recommended by the WHO, the implementation of educational projects in schools;
- propose legislative and administrative solutions to adequately prevent and combat all forms of gender-based violence as well as to protect the victim of violence and any minors involved; also assess the need to draft single texts, in order to implement coherence and completeness of regulations on violence against women;
- monitor the work carried out by the anti-violence centres operating on the territory, including rehabilitation centres for battered men, and the effective application by the regions of the anti-violence plan and the national guidelines for health and hospital facilities on the subject of rescue and socio-health care for victims of violence;
- verify the effective allocation of the resources allocated by decree-law no. 93 of 2013 and by the stability and budget laws to the structures that deal with gender-based violence and ensure that certain and stable funding is guaranteed in order to avoid their closure.
With regard to data on the phenomenon of violence against women, ISTAT is the national body that collects and processes data on the number of feminicides and episodes of domestic violence that occur in Italy and publishes them annually.
6. Collaboration with international organisations
Italy ratified the Istanbul Convention with Law No. 77 of 2013 and has since then tried to adhere to the convention’s dictates with various laws that go in the direction of punishing perpetrators of gender-based violence and feminicides but also of supporting anti-violence centres and shelters that take in victims as well as setting up a national number, 1522, that victims can call to get help and report.
Since then, there have been a number of projects aimed at collecting data on domestic violence and disseminating good practices already in use in other European countries, such as the VIVA project of the CNR and co-financed by the EU, as well as various projects supported by ISS (Istituto Superiore della Sanità), the latest of which is the IPAZIA project of 2021, which promotes the full application of the National Guidelines for Health Authorities and Hospital Authorities on the subject of rescue and socio-health care for women victims of violence, adopted in 2017, in order to increase capacities for the detection, diagnosis, management and treatment of gender-based violence, prevent cases of re-victimisation, and promote the establishment of networks between PSs and, where possible, between them and the social-health and voluntary structures present on the territory.
The VIPROM project also fits right into this panorama, continuing in the direction of the projects already launched that aim at the increasingly widespread dissemination of tools for identifying and supporting victims of domestic violence.
These actions are part of the strategy implemented by the Third National Strategic Plan on male violence against women for the period 2021-2023.