Rape, Racism and the Media

If you are in Italy these days and spend some time watching the news and talking to Italians, you'll notice that there is one topic on everyone's minds and that's rape. In the past few months, there has been extensive media coverage of several rapes that have been perpetrated in the big cities. There has been a huge public outcry coupled with a large demand for more police presence and tougher punishments for rape. Just last week, Prime Minister Berlusconi responded by passing emergency laws to deal with the situation.

At first glance, that sounds pretty good: recognition of the rapes as such, no victim blaming, and prompt action by the government. But it ain't all what it seems.

If you closely pay attention, you'll notice that all of the rapes that have made big news recently were perpetrated by immigrants. Save for one, all of the victims were Italian women. Italy has had a problem with immigration for a long time, and the biggest problem is presented by 'i rom' – the Romanians. They usually come to Italy illegally, live in tent cities on the outskirts of the big cities (Milan, Rome, etc). and come to the cities to make money by begging and pick-pocketing. Prejudices towards them have built up over the years. One persistent stereotype is that the rom steal children. Aside from that, the emergency laws that Berlusconi devised call for the formations of citizen militias. Those volunteers would be unarmed, but given the above mentioned factors, it's clear what this may lead to: government-sanctioned xenophobia.

What's most interesting to see in this whole issue is the extent to which the media has influenced our thinking. Today's issue of the Corriere della Sera published statistics on rapes in Italy in the past few years. As it turns out, the number of overall reported rapes has gone down by 8.4% since last year. Of the rapes reported, over 60% are perpetrated by Italians. Of the remaining 39%, only 7.8% are reported to have been committed by Romanians.

All that aside, let's not forget the positive aspects of the emergency laws: among other things, they will allow higher sentences to be given to rapists, and free legal assistance given to victims. All of that will definitely have an impact on the number or reported rapes, and on the punishment of convicted rapists. However, the media-orchestrated racism surrounding this issue does leave a bitter taste.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7902107.stm - article on the emergency laws