Franca Viola (born January 7 1947 in Alcamo) is an Italian 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 in Southern Italy, 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.
Kidnapping and rape
Franca Viola was born in the rural town of Alcamo, Sicily, the oldest daughter of Bernardo Viola, a farmer, and his wife, Vita Ferra. In 1963, at the age of 15, she became engaged to Filippo Melodia, then aged 23, but after Melodia was arrested for theft, Viola's father insisted she break off the engagement, which she did. Melodia then traveled to Germany. By 1965 Viola was engaged to another man. Melodia by this time had returned to Alcamo and was trying unsuccessfully to re-enter Viola's life, stalking her and threatening both her father and boyfriend.
In the early hours of December 26, 1965, Melodia and a group of armed companions broke into the Viola home and kidnapped Franca, in the process beating Viola's mother and also taking Franca's 8-year-old brother Mariano, who refused to let go of his sister. Mariano was released a few hours later, but Franca was held for 8 days in the home of Melodia's sister and her husband, where she was repeatedly raped. Melodia told 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 pretended to negotiate with the kidnappers, while actually collaborating with the Carabinieri police in preparing a successful dragnet operation. Viola was released and her kidnappers arrested on January 2, 1966, five days before her nineteenth birthday. She said her father asked her if she really wanted to marry Melodia and, when she said she did not want it, he told her he would do everything possible to help her.
Refusal of a rehabilitating marriage
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 shameless 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.
Trial and aftermath
After Viola refused to marry her rapist, her family members 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.
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. In 1970, director Damiano Damiani made the movie The Most Beautiful Wife, starring Ornella Muti, based on Viola's case. In 2012 the Sicilian writer Beatrice Monroy published Viola's story under the title Niente ci fu ('There was nothing').
Franca Viola married Giuseppe Ruisi in December 1968. Ruisi, an accountant, insisted he would have married the girl he had always loved despite threats and rumours, but had to request a firearm license after obtaining the marriage license, to protect himself and his future wife. Franca Viola had two sons and one granddaughter and still lives in Alcamo with her husband.
The article of law whereby a rapist could extinguish his crime by marrying his victim was not abolished until 1981.
- Rifiuto il matrimonio dopo lo stupro (in Italian)
- Marta Boneschi, Di testa loro. Essay on ten women that changed the Italian culture in the 20th century (, in italian)
- Guido Craniz, Storia del miracolo italiano, p. 182. See
- Cullen, Niamh (February 25, 2016). "The case of Franca Viola: Debating Gender, Nation and Modernity in 1960s Italy". Contemporary European History. 25 (1): 97. Retrieved 3 June 2016.
- La fuitina e il disonore: storia di Franca Viola (in Italian)
- 1965, lo "strappo" di Franca Viola (in Italian)
- "La Donna che disse No: Franca Viola, L'attualità di una ribelle". La Repubblica.it (in Italian). May 18, 2012. Retrieved 10 September 2016.
- Niente di straordinario (in italian)