Italy coalition in bitter row over sexual violence law

Feminists marching on International Women's Day in Turin, 8 Mar 19Image copyright
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Italian women demonstrated against gender violence on 8 March

MPs in Italy’s ruling populist coalition have clashed over a major new bill to tackle sexual crimes including rape and revenge porn on the internet.

The right-wing League proposed chemical castration for some sex offenders, with their consent, as a condition for parole. Several countries already practise chemical castration.

But the League’s coalition partners Five Star rejected the proposal.

Revenge porn is to be made a crime, but MPs disagree over the details.

Victims can suffer acute anxiety and depression when intimate photos of them are posted on the internet by ex-partners or hackers. The invasion of privacy can also harm them professionally.

The bill – known as Code Red (“Codice rosso”) – will come back to the Chamber of Deputies on Tuesday. The session was suspended on Thursday when opposition MPs occupied government seats in protest, during a very heated debate.

Humiliation and suicide

Revenge porn was at the centre of a case that gripped Italy in 2017: Tiziana Cantone, 31, took her own life after sex videos of her went viral on the internet and she was humiliated.

  • Italy’s Tiziana: Tragedy of a woman destroyed by viral sex videos
  • Revenge porn: What to do if you’re a victim
  • New guidelines for ‘revenge porn’ crimes

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Five Star MP Giulia Sarti – a victim of revenge porn – wants an effective law against it

A Five Star MP, Giulia Sarti, was also recently the victim of revenge porn, and Tiziana’s mother, Maria Teresa Giglio, expressed solidarity with her.

“As you are an MP, perhaps what happened can serve as input to legislate and finally intervene against this phenomenon,” Ms Giglio said.

However Ms Sarti opposed another MP’s amendment to criminalise revenge porn, which was defeated by 14 votes in the chamber.

On Facebook, Ms Sarti wrote (in Italian) that Laura Boldrini’s amendment did not go far enough. Ms Boldrini is in the left-wing Free and Equal (LeU) party.

“The topic is so sensitive that it requires wide debate not only in parliament, but also judicial and social, above all involving experts, victims, families, analysts, jurists and all the relevant state actors, like the post and telecoms police. It’s a very important issue, so serious regulation must not be incomplete,” Ms Sarti wrote.

Chemical castration dispute

The League’s proposal to introduce voluntary chemical castration for sex offenders was rejected by Five Star, who accused the League of playing politics with it.

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Deputy PM Salvini of the League attacked rapists on Twitter

Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini tweeted (in Italian) that it was the right punishment for those who gang-raped an American woman in Catania, Sicily, recently. Three young men have been arrested on suspicion of raping the 19-year-old tourist.

“For the rapist worms in #Catania who raped a tourist there’s no discount: certain punishment and chemical castration!” he tweeted.

But Five Star criticised the League for proposing chemical castration as a condition for letting jailed rapists or child abusers out on parole.

“It’s a joke to say ‘we’ll castrate you, but only if you agree’. Chemical castration isn’t the method, but prison and certainty of punishment,” said Five Star MP Veronica Giannone.

“This proposal is just political propaganda, and dozens of my colleagues think so too.”

Several countries, including the UK and Germany, offer sex offenders chemical castration to reduce their libido, under strict medical supervision.

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But some countries, such as Poland, Russia and Moldova, have made chemical castration compulsory for certain sex offenders, including paedophiles and rapists, on a case-by-case basis.

The pros and cons of such treatment remain hotly debated by medical experts and human rights groups.