Rape in Firenze

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Accusations of rape were recently reported in a story “Rape Accusations Against Italian Police Dismay Florence” in the New York Times by Jason Horowitz:

As a group of American students studying abroad followed their professor on a field trip through an exquisite Renaissance palazzo, an Italian television reporter around the corner offered viewers a different kind of tour.

In the apartment building where two of the students’ classmates lived, he dramatically pointed to the elevator and staircase where, the two students say, two uniformed members of the country’s iconic Carabinieri police force raped them in the predawn hours of Sept. 7.

The officers have been suspended; they admitted to prosecutors that they had sex with the young women, aged 21 and 19, after meeting them while on duty and in uniform at a popular nightclub and giving them a lift home in their squad car.

The students, whose names have not been released, told prosecutors they were drunk and were raped. But the officers said that the women were not intoxicated, and that the sex was consensual.

The episode has especially touched nerves in a city where American students make up a tenth of the entire student population and help fuel the economy, but also can be seen, and heard, drinking on the streets. Many native Florentines are moving out of the city, and those who remain are increasingly bothered by the proliferation of people who are speaking English in Florence and disgusted by the drunken behavior on their streets.

On American campuses, debates over what does and does not constitute consent and sexual assault, particularly when large quantities of alcohol are at play, have become pervasive and politically charged. Those delicate discussions, though, have largely not made it over to Italy.

Here in Florence the accusations have instead generated cringeworthy media coverage and conversations about American students behaving badly, with Italian television news programs accompanying reports with supplemental footage of anonymous women walking in short leather skirts.

And the thorny issues of victimhood, and where bad judgment ends and malice begins, have been eclipsed by the national disgust over the involvement of members of the Carabinieri, a police force that operates under the control of the Defense Ministry and is celebrated with collectible calendars and television dramas.

The mayor is desperate to avoid the sensationalism that inundated Perugia a decade ago during the long trial of Amanda Knox, an American college student accused, and ultimately exonerated, of murder. He said he had urged the Carabinieri commander to hire more women and instructed city lawyers to file a civil suit against the officers, whom he called ‘disgusting,’ primarily to ensure that the case moves as quickly as possible through the byzantine Italian judicial system.

The provincial commander of the Carabinieri, Giuseppe De Liso, said in an interview that when he heard the news, he called the American consul right away. Disciplinary action was immediately taken against the two officers, he said, which could eventually result in their expulsion, an outcome the Italian Defense Minister, Roberta Pinotti, who oversees the Carabinieri, has all but said is a certainty.

In his headquarters, a former convent, decorated with antique illustrations of Carabinieri uniforms throughout the centuries, Mr. De Liso said he needed to eradicate any suspicion of a cover-up and to restore the honor of his beloved police force.

Florence ( Firenze) has always seemed to be overrun with foreign students. They have a reputation for binge drinking and even been known to jump into historical fountains.

The University of Alabama has a strict policy for its students studying abroad: one strike and you are homeward bound on a jetliner. Other schools have whole compounds for their students who are living in Florence but the University’s junkets are limited to short term visits.

The American practice of “binge drinking” has even become adopted by some young Italians. Italian children as a whole are exposed to moderation and drinking a glass of vino is associated with eating a meal.

There is a problem with teens and people who are in their mid-twenties who drink. That’s why 21 is the legal age for drinking in many places. Heavy drinking not only impairs physiological brain development but it is associated with risky sexual activity. (The human brain does not finish developing until the mid-20s according to a recent report by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board.)

Until their sponsoring schools rein in out-of-control students abroad, there will be problems. In this case Italian police officers may have been “rogue cops” who took advantage of inebriated young women.

Maybe the best place for universities to start might be in the States, where alcohol abuse and under-aged drinking is epidemic in scale?

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