“The savage killing of Sara di Pietrantonio… may become a wake-up call for other women to rebel and denounce any abuse.”
“I only wanted to scare her. When she escaped I decided to chase her. We were so close. I don’t really know what happened. I lighted a cigarette and she caught fire.”
These were the words that Vincenzo Paduano, 27, told police investigators in Italy when confessing he had burnt alive his 22-year-old ex-girlfriend, Sara di Pietrantonio.
Sara, a third year economy student from Rome, was murdered on 29 May between 4.06 and 4.20am by Vincenzo, a security guard, who was unable to come to terms with their break up. When Sara left her new boyfriend’s house and got into her car to head home, Vincenzo followed her into the vehicle and started an argument. When she tried to escape, he reportedly stopped her and then proceeded to pour alcohol on the car, her neck and chest. Sara’s car was set alight and the young woman was devoured by flames.
Sara’s death has sparked worldwide media attention, however, it is those closest to home who have been left the most affected. Ilaria Messina, 22, a childhood friend of Sara, told the IPF that the news had “deeply moved” her, but that she was sure her ballerina friend was now “dancing with the stars”. She recalled her time with Sara:
“We were of the same age and shared the same desire to live, the same passion for ballet. We always had the smile of someone who has struggled but has managed to get on, as well as the same courage. Words are not enough to soothe the pain or the anger.”
Although Sara had been with Vincenzo for two years, recent media reports have revealed that she told her friends that he had treated her violently. However, nothing was ever reported to the police. Fabio Nacchio, a Social Media Editor and Human Rights Advocate, told the IPF that Sara’s death had “left a stain” and pointed out why this could be a turning point for the country.
“The savage killing of Sara has struck many, not only women. Unfortunately femicides occur frequently – around 200 a year – but the particular way in which Sara’s developed has left a stain, which may also become a wake-up call for other women to rebel and denounce any abuse.”
CCTV footage has revealed that two cars passed by while Sara was in the middle of the road, crying for help. However, the cars continue without stopping, despite noticing the situation that was unfolding. Author and TV crime series presenter, Franca Leosini, told the Huffington Post that this is what frustrated her most.
“The great sin of our time is indifference,” said Franca. “To not have any interest for another’s destiny is a mortal sin. I stigmatise who could have helped and didn’t do it. This is what upsets me the most of this whole tragedy.”
She went on to advise women never to be embarrassed about violence being committed against them and urged them to report any abuse, “not at the first blow, but at the first hint of a blow.” Fabio agreed with Franca and told the IPF:
“Denounce. Always. Never hush. Ask for help, don’t feel shame, because those that commit the violence should be ashamed, not the victims.”
Fabio noted that current laws against violence in Italy are insufficient. He urged the government to do something to strengthen these laws, stressing that there is an urgent need for local government to fund anti-violence centres, as well as reduce the side effects of poverty, school abandonment and drug trafficking.
“One doesn’t feel safe to go out in the streets at night because monsters like Paduano can easily be found wondering the streets after only five years in jail.”
Sara was killed near Magliana, a neighbourhood on the outskirts of Rome which is re-known for its crimes. Despite the need to tackle anti-social behaviour on the streets, Martina Furfaro, a 21-year-old studying in the area, said that even though the area might be infamous for its safety, this particular case had nothing to do with security.
The student told the IPF:
“Obviously going around alone at that time wasn’t a wise idea. But here we are talking about someone completely insane, because only in sanity there may be excuse for such an atrocious incident.”
Despite Fabio’s pleas to the government to implement tougher laws around violence, he also stressed that there is a need for social reform. He acknowledged that the battle for people’s safety on the streets of Italy isn’t one that can be won solely through action on the government’s behalf.
“Women cannot be left alone to face this kind of abuse: a radical cultural action is needed, which involves the whole of society, both women and men. Without a change in mentality and culture, no law can guarantee enough safety.”
A petition has been launched on Change.org to tackle gender crimes in the city and implement an effective project aimed at raising awareness of female violence.