The Crime of Honor: An Italian Story

Thursday, January 5, 2017: 3:50 PM
Governor's Square 15 (Sheraton Denver Downtown)
Ernesto De Cristofaro, University of Catania
The crime of honor belongs to the earliest phase of the Western legal tradition, the era of Roman law, as an expression of a, tribal but socially shared, mode of constructing private justice and defense of decorum and respectability of the family by the father or by the husband of the illegally "violated" woman. It runs through the medieval and modern history and landed in the Italian criminal legislation of nineteenth - twentieth century: first in the Zanardelli Code of 1889, then in the Rocco Code of 1930. It appears worthy of interest that even the fascist State, that tended to attract, in a totalitarian way, every single aspect of political and social life of the nation in its orbit of regulation and control, allowed the persistence of a perimeter of relationships that could be entrusted to the private dimension of reprisal and revenge. In fact, contrary to what happened in general for other crimes against the person, the penalties that the penal Code provideed for the murder (or for abortion and infanticide) for reasons of honor remained very mild, and this circumstance constituted an objective encouragement for everyone to take the law by himself. After protracted and farraginous journalistic, scientific and parliamentarian discussions, the murder for reason of honor was abolished in Italy in 1981(with the same legal measure which abolished matrimonio riparatore, which “legalised” certain forms of rape). This eloquent chronological fact testifies to the tough nature of prejudices on family roles of men and women that the passage of time has barely scratched.