“She asked for it”, “her skirt was too short”, “She should not have gone out on her own so late”, “maybe she agreed, then changed her mind.” Words that hurt perhaps more than the violence she had suffered. Mary (the name is fictional) has learned to live with it too soon. In Melito, Italy, she faced the tragedy of being raped, then also the ignorance of some of her fellow citizens.
She was 13 when some older boys, one of whom was her “boyfriend”, waited for her at the entrance of the school to take her “for a ride”. With the excuse of an ice cream and a bit of chatter, they dragged her every day to isolated places – a forest, the old cemetery, wherever there was silence and desolation – then raped her in turn, repeatedly, often forcing her physically or exploiting her psychological fragility. The kind of frailty that characterizes every child or teenager without a guide. “C’mon! Don’t you know how to do it?” they teased her when she started to cry out of fear and shame. “Look, if you tell anyone, we’ll show the pictures”, they threatened her if she tried to rebel. Then, they left her in a corner and forced her to make the bed. Yet another insult, the last suffering of the day.
They abused her for three years, then Maria decided to get out of this tunnel of violence. One morning, after one of her teachers insisted, having finally realized what hid behind this skinny body and big sad eyes, she went to the police and denounced the rapes she had suffered. She told them everything: tied wrists, obscenities, the dirty bed on which they deprived her of the last crumbles of human dignity. “There was a pink blanket – confessed the girl to a psychologist – and I had no more respect for myself. Sometimes I allowed them to do whatever they wanted, but I wanted to cry and I felt terrible.”
From her story emerges an uncomfortable and painful truth, made of silence, shame, ignorance, and indifference. Her parents knew everything. Or at least, they imagined what their daughter was going through. Yet, they preferred to keep quiet and pretend like nothing happened. For three years. Her fellow citizens have been even more cruel than that: once they heard the news, they accused her publicly of being an “easy girl”. Better strike the victim again than to punish the guilty, who were probably the children of their friends, family, or even worse, where she lives, it might have been the son of a well-known local mafia boss.
Maria’s story is not an isolated case: too many women, after having suffered abuse, are paradoxically treated as if they were guilty. A few days ago, in Rimini, a 17-year-old girl was raped in the bathroom of a nightclub, while she was in the company of her girlfriends. Instead of defending or saving her, these girls filmed the rape with a mobile phone and posted the video to social media. The laughter in the background, the jokes and the whole scene were seen by thousands of people, including the victim, who decided to report to the police the day after. Yet, this cannot erase her trauma.
In Naples, a 31-year-old woman took her own life after years of suffering and shame, a victim of violence and insensitivity of those around her. A few years ago, the young woman had ended, without knowledge, in a home porn video recorded by her then boyfriend. Removing the video from the Internet did not help the situation, for most of her fellow citizens, Tiziana was an easy girl who deserved to be judged. She hanged herself with a scarf, in her basement. She was the victim of several perpetrators too.
Often – denounced the associations that protect women – the media are responsible for morbidly emphasizing certain aspects of these stories, encouraging the public to shoot zero on yet another victim. To injure the dignity of these people, in many cases, is also the lack of support from the institutions, which has the moral – and legal – duty to side with them, but which too often do not openly condemn such episodes of violence. The same is true for the entire society that turns away from them with no qualms.