The violent murder of women by current or ex partners is a reality that every country battles with. On Friday my own hometown was struck with a particularly gruesome example, when 22-year old Sara di Pietrantonio was burned alive by her ex boyfriend while she was going home after a date. The articles on the subject are in Italian, but the gist the following:
- It was 3:30AM. Knowing her route home and that she was going to drive by on her way home from her date, he waited for her and ran her car off the road.
- He got in, they fought, and he started covering her and the car with ethanol.
- She ran from the car, tried to stop two cars who were driving by at the time, but they didn’t stop.
- He caught up with her, set her on fire, torched the car and left.
He has been charged with first degree murder, which I think is the most obvious sentence in the world. However, there are two parts of this story that I want to address.
- Neither of those two cars stopped to help her.
I remember growing up in Rome. People were nosy beyond belief. There couldn’t be a discussion, a loud argument, let alone a physical one in public which didn’t see multiple random people interfering immediately. It saddens me deeply that this culture is fading.
I understand that it was very late at night, and that it happened on the Magliana, a street notorious for gypsies and muggings. Most likely the people who drove past were afraid that the distressed woman they saw was a ruse to get them to stop and then be car jacked. It is unclear whether or not they at least called the police when they drove past. One way or another, this fear for one’s personal safety leads so many people to not stop and help. If just one of them had stopped their car and let her get in the back, she would still be alive.
I can’t ask people to start disregarding their own personal safety to help others. I can’t even tell you for sure what I would have done in that split-second decision. I like to think that I would have stopped, opened the car door and told her to get in, but only because I tend to think “she’s in trouble” in these kinds of situations, as opposed to “it’s a trap”. If I had been mugged before, I might have driven past out of fear. What I do want people to ask themselves is this: If you were one of those people who drove past, and you read this in the paper the next day, would you be able to live with yourself? Some people say “yes, I couldn’t have known”. Others, like me, could not. My wallet, or even my car, is worth far less to me than someone’s life. This story makes me more likely to stop and help someone, not less. I hope that more people start to feel that way.
2. The police say that this could have been avoided if only she had reported his obsessive, stalking behavior before.
I don’t know if this is true. I do not know how seriously the Italian police take claims of harassment and stalking. What is true is that not enough people in our culture, including Sara’s own friends and family, take this kind of behavior as seriously as they should.
I have been stalked before, and I know a few others who have as well. All of us have heard, at some point, people asking us “but… weren’t you also a little bit flattered as well?” Fuck no. Stalking is serious, and it is scary. Sometimes, it’s socially awkward people who think that Rom Coms are lessons in how to win women’s hearts rather than completely exaggerated fiction far beyond what is socially acceptable in real life. Sometimes, it’s people who are capable of extreme violence. If you are being stalked, it can be difficult to distinguish between the two, and mistaking the latter for the former can cost you your life.
We need to get to a place in which controlling and obsessive behavior is not tolerated. There should be no gray area of “well maybe it’s just their way of showing their love for you”. Fuck that noise. I hope that stories like Sara’s can shine a light on those red flags that everyone should be taking far more seriously.