Legalized Rape and Beyond: The Fuitina” Tradition in Sicily

Thursday, January 5, 2017: 4:10 PM
Governor's Square 15 (Sheraton Denver Downtown)
Antonella Vitale, City University of New York
The practice of kidnapping a woman for the purpose of rape or consensual sex in southern Italy was known as fuitina. The literal translation of the word fuitina in Sicilian dialect is “to escape.”  Fuitina was an ambiguously defined practice. On the one hand, the kidnapping and rape of a woman by an unwanted suitor was referred to as fuitina. In these instances, the victim was often forced to marry the perpetrator in order to preserve the honor of the family.  Fuitina thus involved a form of forced reparatory marriage. Until recently (1990s-today), fuitina was often portrayed in the media as a backward custom tied to stereotypes associated with southern Italy, that is of an underdeveloped region where oppressive traditions persisted. This perception was particularly popular from the 1960s thru the 1980s, mainly fueled by a famous case in 1965, when a young woman named Franca Viola, from the town of Alcamo, Sicily made front-page news after refusing to marry her rapist.  Viola was the first woman in Italy to publicly refuse a rape marriage.  Her case helped bring about the legal end of matrimonio riparatore in 1981.  However, fuitina had more benign functions that could enhance individual agency. Thus it could be used by a young couple to negotiate sexual relations, or to have a say in determining their future marriage against the wishes of their family.  In other instances, fuitina was encouraged by young couples’ families who were experiencing economic hardship, in an effort to avoid the cost of a big wedding.  This paper uses oral histories and archival research to explain the complexities and transformation of the practice of fuitina, from a custom tied to the stereotypical “underdeveloped south,” to a form of modernization in which young people sought to rebel against traditional marriage norms.
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