Franca Viola

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Franca Viola (born in Alcamo in 1947) is a Sicilian woman who became famous in the 1960s in Italy for refusing a "rehabilitating marriage" ("matrimonio riparatore" in Italian) with her victimizer after suffering kidnapping and rape. Instead, she and her family successfully appealed to the law to prosecute the rapist. The trial had a wide resonance in Italy, as Viola's behavior clashed with the traditional social conventions, whereby a woman would lose her honour if she did not marry the man she lost her virginity to. Franca Viola thus became a symbol of the cultural progress and the emancipation of women in post-war Italy.[1][2][3]

Kidnapping and rape[edit]

Franca Viola was the eldest of farmers in Alcamo, Sicily and was described as a beautiful girl, of remarkable kindness and very polite, who was sorry because, given the modest economic conditions of her parents, she had not been able to afford to attend high school and wished to marry for love with a respectable young man and have children of her own. In 1963, Franca met Filippo Melodia, a wealthy but turbulent and overbearing young man, with whom se became engaged; however, shortly after Melodia was arrested for theft and police revealed he had close relations with a powerful family of the local mafia. At this point, Viola broke up with him, supported by her parents. Once released from prison, Melodia started again courting her, without success and bothered both Viola and her parents, going so far as to set fire to some farms they owned and threatening her father with a gun, by shouting: "Chista è chidda che scaccerà la testa a vossia" ("Sooner or later, I will shot you in the head with this"). In the early hours of December 26, 1965, Melodia broke into Viola's house, along with a dozen criminal blows, beated Viola's mother who was desperately trying to save her daughter and kidnapped Franca and her little brother, Mariano, aged 8, who was released some house later because he was panicking.[1] young Viola was repeatedly raped and segregated for 8 days into a house belonging to Melodia's relatives. Melodia threatened viola, telling her that now she would be forced to marry him so as not to become a "dishonored" woman, but Viola replied that she had no intention of marriage and, moreover, that she would have him sued for kidnapping and rape. Viola's father initially tried to commit suicide in despair, because he feared his daughter had already been murdered, but was dissuaded and contacted theCarabinieri police. He pretended to come to terms with the kidnappers for his daughter's marriage with Melodia, while actually collaborating with the Carabinieri police in preparing a successful dragnet operation. Viola was thus released and her kidnappers arrested on January 2nd, 1966, five days before her nineteenth birthday.[4][5]

Refusal of a rehabilitating marriage[edit]

Melodia offered Viola a rehabilitating marriage, but she refused, thus acting against what was the common practice in the Sicilian society of the time. According to traditional social code, this choice would make her a "donna svergognata": a "woman without honour" (literally: a shamed woman), as she had lost her virginity without getting married. It is notable that these conceptions were not exclusive to Sicily or rural areas; to some extent, they were also implicit in the Italian Code of Criminal Procedure of the time, which equated rape to a crime against "public morality" rather than a personal offence, and formalized (in art. 544) the idea of a "rehabilitating marriage", stating that a rapist who married his victim would have his crime automatically extinguished.[4]

Consequences and trial[edit]

After Viola refused to marry her rapist, her family were reportedly menaced and persecuted, to the point of having their vineyard and cottage burned to the ground. These events and the following trial had a wide resonance in the Italian media, and the Parliament itself was directly involved, as it became obvious that part of the existing code clashed with the public opinion. Melodia's lawyers tried to maintain that Viola had consented to a so-called "fuitina" (a runaway to get married secretly) rather than being kidnapped, but the trial found Melodia guilty. He was condemned to 11 years in prison, later reduced to 10 years.[4]

Despite people predicted she could not have been able to find a suitable husband, Franca Viola married a young man she had loved since childhood, Giuseppe Ruisi, in December 1968. Both the Italian President Giuseppe Saragat and Pope Paul VI publicly expressed their appreciation of Franca Viola's courage and their solidarity with the couple.[5] In 1970, director Damiano Damiani made the movie The Most Beautiful Wife, starring Ornella Muti, based on Viola's case.[4] Franca Viola, now a grandmother, still lives in Alcamo with her husband.

The article of law whereby a rapist could extinguish his crime by marrying his victim was abolished only ten years later, in 1981.[6]


  1. ^ a b Rifiuto il matrimonio dopo lo stupro (in Italian)
  2. ^ Marta Boneschi, Di testa loro. Essay on ten women that changed the Italian culture in the 20th century ([1], in italian)
  3. ^ Guido Craniz, Storia del miracolo italiano, p. 182. See
  4. ^ a b c d La fuitina e il disonore: storia di Franca Viola (in Italian)
  5. ^ a b 1965, lo "strappo" di Franca Viola (in Italian)
  6. ^ Niente di straordinario (in italian)