A recent horrifying case of partner violence in Italy has sparked a discussion about the law, and whether or not the destruction of someone’s identity should be recognized as another form of murder.
The case involves a woman by the name of Carla Caiazzo, a young woman who was stalked and brutally assaulted by her ex for having the audacity to leave him while she was pregnant with his child. Paolo Pietropaolo stalked his ex girlfriend and, upon discovering that she was seeing another man, cornered her and set her on fire in her car while she was 8 months pregnant with his child.
She managed to extinguish the flames, first on her abdomen in a desperate attempt to save the life of her baby, and then on the rest of her body. Amazingly they both survived, her baby was delivered prematurely in a local hospital, and she has had 21 surgeries and is scheduled for more to deal with her extensive injuries.
This is story, in all its brutality, is unfortunately nothing new. Violence inspired by the childish sentiment of “if I can’t have him/her, nobody can” is depressing in how common it is. However, this specific case has inspired Carla to become politically active in a way that she never was before.
In a heartfelt and personal open letter to the President, Carla Caiazzo is calling for the recognition of omicidio d’identità, or murder of identity. She wrote:
Il mio aggressore ha voluto ed è riuscito a deturpare il mio volto. Mi ha ammazzato lasciandomi viva.
Io, come la povera Lucia Annibali (l’avvocata sfigurata con l’acido n.d.r.) siamo vittime di chi ha voluto cancellarci, distruggere, deturpare il nostro viso. Il viso – ripete – quello che ci consente di riconoscerci e renderci riconoscibili alla società
Translation: My aggressor wanted to, and succeeded in disfiguring my face. He has killed me while leaving me alive. I, like the poor Lucia Annibali (the lawyer disfigured by acid, editor’s note) are victims of those who have wanted to erase us, destroy us, disfigure our faces. The face – she repeats – that which enables us to recognize each other and render us recognizable in society.
Carla Caiazzo is calling for new legislation to be passed which recognized that the purposeful disfigurement of a person’s face goes beyond assault in its intent, and thus should be recognized as a more egregious act by law. It’s purpose is, as she said, to erase that person’s identity, and thus should be recognized as a kind of murder in its own right*.
This law would not even be strictly designed to be entirely applicable in her case. Carla’s ex boyfriend set her on fire with the intent of murdering her outright, rather than forcing her to live with her disfigurement, and as such he has been convicted to 18 years and 325,000 euros in restitution for attempted murder and stalking. That was even more than her requested sentence of 15 years, and she is content with that verdict. This letter is not an effort in vengeance so that she can extract a harsher sentence for her abuser. Rather, she is empathizing with the countless victims of disfigurement. She has had her entire future colored permanently by this horrific tragedy, and knowing that her daughter will never see her as anything other than what she was made by her father, she is demanding a legal recognition of the monstrosity of these acts.
This is where I open the discussion to you. What do you think about having a law which recognizes identity murder? While it would clearly not solve the problem of partner and spousal abuse, what kind of message would it send if we start recognizing permanent disfigurement as an act of violence which goes beyond physical assault?
*Before you start discussing, I want to make something clear that might be lost in translation. In Italian, the word omicidio is used in conjunction with all of the different kinds of homicide: voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, vehicular manslaughter, first and second degree murder, etc. I have translated it to “murder” because that is what it means, but in English “murder” is only used when talking about first and second degree murder, and so it might seem as though she is saying that disfigurement is on par with a premeditated homicide. That’s not what she is saying, she is simply saying that it should be included in the larger legal category of homicide.