Mass protests erupt across Italy after extradition of college student’s suspected killer

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Tens of thousands took to the streets of Italy’s main cities on Saturday to mark International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, just as an Italian man suspected of killing his ex-girlfriend was extradited from Germany.

The slaying of 22-year-old university student Giulia Cecchettin, allegedly at the hands of her former boyfriend, sparked outrage across Italy, where on average one woman is killed every three days.

Suspect Filippo Turetta, 21, landed at the Venice airport around mid-morning on Saturday. He was immediately transferred to a prison in the northern city of Verona to face questions in the investigation into Cecchettin’s death, Italian media reported.

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Cecchettin had disappeared after meeting Turetta for a burger at a shopping mall near Venice, just days before she was to receive her degree in biomedical engineering. The case gripped Italy.

Her body was found on Nov. 18 — covered by black plastic bags in a ditch near a lake in the foothills of the Alps. Turetta was arrested the following day in Germany.

Cecchettin’s killing has sparked an unprecedented wave of grief and anger in Italy, where many women say patriarchal attitudes are still entrenched.

Data from the Italian Interior Ministry show that 106 women have so far been killed in Italy this year, 55 of them allegedly by a partner or former partner.

Italy’s RAI state TV reported that in the days since Cecchettin’s body was found, calls to a national hotline for women fearing for their safety at the hands of men have jumped from some 200 to 400 a day — including from parents of young women.

“Rome has been invaded … we are 500,000,” said activists from Non Una Di Meno (Not one less), the anti-violence feminist association that organized the rally in the capital.

Many of the demonstrations that took place across Italy remembered Cecchettin and her striking story.

“Male violence is something that personally touched me and all of us, at every age,” said Aurora Arleo, a 24-year-old student, who went to the demonstration from Ladispoli, a town close to Rome. “We have united also in the name of Giulia, because her story struck us, and I hope it will change something.”

Monica Gilardi, 46, noted that her generation was probably “the one that suffered in silence more than others,” despite having experienced years of women’s battles and emancipation.

“Now that I’ve reached a different awareness, I hope to be able to share it with my sisters,” she said.

Thousands of men of all ages also responded to the call for joining Saturday’s initiatives against gender violence.

“I think it was important to be here today,” said Leonardo Sanna, 19, who took part in the Rome demonstration with female friends. “It’s not my first time, but I believe that Giulia’s death changed in part the perception of this problem among youths. And I hope this is not going to be short-lived.”

Earlier this week, the Italian parliament approved new measures to clamp down on violence against women, following unanimous support from the two chambers.

Among the measures being introduced is a campaign in schools to address sexism, machismo and psychological and physical violence against women.

“A human society that aspires to be civilized cannot accept, cannot endure, this string of attacks on women and murders,” Italy’s President Sergio Mattarella said on Saturday. “We cannot just counter this with intermittent indignation.”

In his message to mark the battle against gender violence, Pope Francis said it is a plague that must be rooted out from society and called for educational action.

“Violence against women is a poisonous weed that plagues our society and must be pulled up from its roots,” the Pope wrote in a post on X, formerly Twitter, on Saturday.

“These roots grow in the soil of prejudice and of injustice; they must be countered with educational action that places the person, with his or her dignity, at the center,” he added.

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Violence against women and girls remains one of the most pervasive human rights violations in the world. According to the most recent U.N. data, globally, over 700 million women — almost one in three — have been subjected to physical and sexual intimate partner violence, non-partner sexual violence, or both, at least once in their life.

Thousands of people also rallied in Paris on Saturday to demand more government action to prevent gender violence. Protesters marched behind a large banner saying “women are angry, stop violence: actions and resources, now.”

France has taken steps in recent years to toughen punishment for rape and sexual misconduct. But while President Emmanuel Macron has promised to tackle deadly domestic abuse and other violence against women, activists say France still has a long way to go.

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