Cecchettin was allegedly stabbed to death by her ex-boyfriend in northern Italy, a murder case that has quickly turned into a political movement. The supposed motive is chilling in what it says about the current state of male-dominated society.
Updated Nov. 27, 2023 at 3:40 p.m.
ROME — On November 11, Giulia Cecchettin and her ex-boyfriend Filippo Turetta went missing after meeting for dinner. For a week, Italians followed the case in hopes that the story would end with two lovers returning home after going on an adventure — but women knew better.
As the days went by, more details of their relationship started to come to light. Filippo had been a jealous, possessive boyfriend, he had not dealt with Giulia's decision to break up very well, and he constantly hounded her to get back together.
When Giulia's body was found at the bottom of a lake in the northern region of Veneto, with 20 stab wounds, Italians were not surprised, but they were fed up. Vigils, demonstrations and protests spread throughout the country: Giulia Cecchettin's death, Italy's 105th case of femicide for the year 2023, finally opened a breach of pain and anger into public opinion. But why this case, why now?
It was Elena Cecchettin, Giulia's sister, who played a vital role. At the end of a torchlight procession, the 24-year-old university student took the floor and did something people weren't expecting: she turned private grief into a political movement. Elena distanced herself from the role of the victim and took on the responsibility for a future change.
"Filippo is not a monster; a monster is an exception, someone external to society, someone society should not take responsibility for. But here that responsibility exists," she said confidently, leaving everyone breathless.
Not a sudden outburst
Elena Cecchettin narrated the violence done to her sister and exposed what should be obvious to all of us: femicides are the tip of the iceberg for the violence and oppression that affects millions of women everywhere in the world. It is something each woman knows and fears since birth.
Violence serves to restore the hierarchy that some women have dared to question.
Femicides are not the products of sudden outbursts, as experts have been trying to explain for years. They are preceded by a crescendo of physical and psychological abuse, manipulation attempts, blackmail, stalking, gaslighting, obsessive and controlling behaviors that can go on for months or years, mostly tolerated by society.
As Elena says, violence serves to restore the hierarchy that some women have dared to question; it is an expression of a millennia-old power system in crisis but still deeply rooted in everyday behavior.
Often, women and girls seeking help are not believed, and the warning signs they raise are neglected until the story ends with tragic outcomes. "Filippo asked her to stop attending her exams; it was the first warning bell," recounts Elena.
Giulia was killed five days before receiving her degree in biomedical engineering at the University of Padua. This was an achievement Giulia had managed despite the many family problems caused by the illness of her mother, who passed away six months ago. Her goal to obtain a degree had caused a crisis in Filippo, her study partner, according to reports from the girl's family. Filippo did not want Giulia to graduate before him.
Massive rallies around Italy on Saturday to denounce femicide
A fear of female independence
In her book Amore E Violenza, Il Fattore Molesto Della Civiltà (Love and Violence, the Annoying Factor of Civilization), writer and feminist Lea Melandri says: "There are unsuspected kinships that many do not recognize or prefer to ignore. The oldest and most enduring of these is the one that links love to hate, tenderness to anger, life to death."
As women reach unprecedented levels of autonomy, murders and violence against them are multiplying.
People destroy to preserve, kill for what they have been taught to call love, but which is not love. "Instead of merely calling for harsher penalties for the attackers, perhaps it would be wiser to take a look at those areas of personal life that deal with the most intimate relationships, where everything is most familiar to us but not necessarily better known. Those who kill, rape, and subjugate are predominantly husbands, sons, fathers, lovers unable to tolerate domestic walls that are either too protective or not protective enough, suffocating embraces, or abandonments that reveal unexpected male vulnerabilities," writes Melandri.
But at a time when women seem to have reached unprecedented levels of autonomy and participation in the public space, murders and violence against them are multiplying. Even those who have achieved higher levels of education and finally gained access to equal opportunity still seem exposed to the ferocity of male violence, which seeks to regress everyone to centuries of subordination and dependence.
Historian Vanessa Roghi recalls that in the essay A Room of One's Own, writer Virginia Woolf reflects on the anger with which men write about women. Roghi explains that Woolf "comes to the conclusion that when a woman studies, writes, or simply expresses independent thought, she deprives man of his image of her, which is only a mirror he uses to reflect himself off of."
This is why even the most independent of women can become victims of heinous violence: it is their "no" that triggers anger, breaking a pact of submission that has lasted for millennia.
"Hence the enormous importance to a patriarch who has to conquer, who has to rule, of feeling that great numbers of people, half the human race indeed, are by nature inferior to himself. It must indeed be one of the chief sources of his power," writes Woolf in her feminist classic.
Even in an era when feminism is widespread and diverse, even mainstream, violence does not stop. All of its battles seem to have been momentarily in vain, in the face of a 22-year-old girl stabbed to death.
But in this moment of disorientation, it becomes clearer that change must be radical; there can be no gradualness. It is not about amending or reforming something but about changing everything.
" Femicide is not a crime of passion; it is a crime of power. We need widespread sexual and emotional education; we need to teach that love is not possession. We must fund anti-violence centers and provide opportunity for those in need to seek help. For Giulia, don't take a minute of silence. For Giulia, burn everything," concluded Elena Cecchettin, quoting a viral poem by Peruvian activist Cristina Torres-Cáceres.
But the girl was inundated with insults.
Stefano Valdegamberi, the League councillor in the Veneto region, accused Elena Cecchettin of being "ideological" and then posted images taken from her Facebook profile, writing that she "promotes symbols of Satanism."
Meanwhile, Italy's first female prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, has promised a new law and more investments for prevention projects, while the Minister of Education and Merit, Giuseppe Valditara, has said that new guidelines will be approved to promote gender violence prevention in schools. However, feminist organizations have pointed out that in the last year, the funds allocated by Meloni's right-wing government for such activities have been reduced by 70%.
"Despite the increase in funds recorded in the last decade, the number of women killed by men within the family has remained essentially stable over time. This suggests the inadequacy of the anti-violence policies adopted," is written in the latest report from the NGO ActionAid Prevenzione Sottocosto, presented on November 13. Nearly seven million women have experienced physical violence in their lifetime, more than two million have been victims of stalking, and millions have had to deal with psychological or economic abuse, according to Istat, the Italian National Institute of Statistics.
More than a quarter of the world's population finds it justifiable for a man to physically abuse his partner.
According to ActionAid, between 2020 and 2023, approximately 248.8 million euros were allocated to resources against gender violence. But only 12% of these funds were dedicated to prevention. "For interventions in education and awareness that aim to dismantle social norms and behaviors that produce and reproduce violence, only 5.6% of the total anti-violence funds for the three-year period have been allocated."
According to the United Nations' Gender Social Norms Index, which measures stereotypes and beliefs that produce gender inequalities, more than a quarter of the world's population finds it justifiable for a man to physically abuse his partner.
Italy has particularly concerning data: 61.5% of the population holds prejudices against women, and 45% has beliefs that may lead to justifying physical, sexual, and psychological violence by a partner.
"Only cultural work that counters customs and patterns of violence against women and girls can reverse the trend," states the ActionAid report. But in the last year, funds have fallen by 70%: "It has gone from over 17 million euros in 2022 to five million for 2023."
Taking a minute of silence is not enough. Elena Cecchettin is right: everything needs to be redone, and as quickly as possible.
When was Filippo Turetta arrested?
Filippo Turetta was apprehended by authorities in Germany on November 19, more than a week after he allegedly murdered Giulia Cecchettin. He was taken to a prison in Lipsia where he awaited confirmation of extraction back to Italy, which was approved on November 24.
What is the definition of femicide?
Femicide is a term that specifically refers to the intentional killing of women or girls because they are female. It is a gender-based crime rooted in systemic sexism, discrimination, and power imbalances, often driven by motives such as misogyny, patriarchal control, or the belief in male superiority. Femicide encompasses a range of violent actions, including domestic violence, honor killings, sexual violence, and targeted murders. This term is essential in highlighting the gender-specific nature of such crimes and advocating for awareness, prevention, and legal measures to address the underlying societal issues that contribute to violence against women.
How do we prevent gender violence?
Preventing gender violence is a multifaceted task that requires a comprehensive and sustained effort across societal, educational, and institutional levels. Education plays a pivotal role in challenging and transforming cultural norms that perpetuate gender-based violence. Promoting awareness about healthy relationships, consent, and respect for diversity is crucial from an early age. Implementing educational programs that address gender stereotypes and promote empathy fosters a more equitable society.
Legislation and policies must be strengthened to hold perpetrators accountable while providing support and protection for survivors. Additionally, fostering a culture of open communication, where victims feel empowered to speak out without fear of stigma, is essential. Collaboration between governments, non-profit organizations, and communities is paramount to creating a society that actively rejects gender violence, ensuring that everyone can live free from the threat of harm and discrimination.