What Do You Think About Identity Murder?

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.


  1. agender says

    Here´s the brandnewest of the German ones:
    Basically: An ex who stalked a woman has stabbed her and bound to his car with a rope – all with the 2-year-old sitting in the car.
    She survived, and in comments most people sneer at the German legal system, partly because the perp was German with some extraction from the Balkans, partly more to the point because German (LATIN!!!) legal system is extremely lenient toward each version of violence against women (or what the bureacracy defines as such, like me)

  2. says

    I’m not happy with the framing of it as it seems pretty ableist, equating suffering disfigurement with dying. Our identity is also much more than our face. I think the law should recognise the ongoing suffering imposed on the victim and take that into account as the consequences are indeed worse than for, say, a stab wound to the belly.

  3. Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought says

    When I read the title and the first sentence, I was convinced we were going to be talking about identity as in sense of self, our personality. I was expecting an article about partner violence that included emotional abuse to the point where the victim was “not herself” anymore. Can’t fight back, can’t even express the desire to or any other emotion. Maybe she had a strange personality change to cope with the abuse and after escaping can’t function normally any more… situations like that.
    Going in with that picture in mind.. I don’t know.
    If this would be helpful , then sure. I hesitate to say but, because I can’t imagine how a person attacked in this way must feel, but calling it identity murder doesn’t sound quite right.

  4. Holms says

    If we split the various versions of ‘intentional attack resulting in physical harm’ crimes like so for the sake of discussion:

    assault: an attack not intended to kill nor doing so accidentally. Plenty of scope for further graduations, as this covers everything from a black eye from a single punch, up to a severe curbstomp involving weapons.

    manslaughter: as above, except accidentally resulting in death. Could be argued to be either the ‘strongest’ assault or the ‘weakest’ murder, but I’ll just leave it here for now.

    murder / attempted murder: an attack intending the death of the victim. The only major variable is whether it was premeditated or a crime of passion.

    Based on these rough definitions, I think it most reasonable to place this at the top of the assault class, as it is an attack intending permanent damage to the victim short of death.

    • says

      I know the German judicial system knows something like “especially heavy guilt” (rough translation): besondere schwere der Schuld. It’s something that takes these factors into account and has consequences: Not only are the sentences higher, you’re also not eligible for certain things like getting out early, or on probation etc.
      I think the tools are already there in most cases.

      • agender says

        Yeah, this is in the book. BUT there is also “mindere Schuld” (less guilt or better less legal punishability) and this is being used MUCH more often!
        Back during the womens´ movement we cited “we are less worth than falsifying banknotes!” and this is still true.

  5. Siobhan says

    I think it most reasonable to place this at the top of the assault class, as it is an attack intending permanent damage to the victim short of death.

    I was going to say that cruelty of this degree ought to be an aggravating circumstance in sentencing, which is more or less the same effect.

    Jesus H Christ at the German story.

  6. says

    What do you think about having a law which recognizes identity murder?

    Enforcing the laws against abuse that are already on the books would probably be better, rather than creating new laws to deal with extreme edge-cases.

    Extreme edge-cases where the brutality and cruelty of the crime is unusual and notable should be handled with appropriately extreme sentencing. The problem with the concept of a system of justice, to me, is that it doesn’t actually do anything to prevent future crimes. Even warehousing this aggressor for life isn’t going to do anything to make her life better (maybe a bit safer but the damage has been done) It’s an open question as to whether strict sentencing actually does deter crimes – human history argues that it does not.

    In this case, I admit I wonder whether Hamurrabi was right: this guy probably would understand why what he did was wrong if someone doused him in diesel and lit him. You know what they say, “give a man a match, and you’ve made him warm for a day, teach him how to make a fire and he’s warm for as long as he wants to be. light him on fire and you’ve made him warm for the rest of his life.”

    an attack intending permanent damage to the victim short of death

    I think it would be reasonable to argue that anyone would expect such an attack might be fatal, therefore it was attempted murder. Note: she put the flames out. If she hadn’t, she would have died. The attacker tried to kill her and she rescued herself.

    • Vivec says

      Indeed, there has actually been a good amount of statistical analysis about the effectiveness of strict sentencing vs increased likliehood of being caught.

      I can’t remember the source off the top of my head, but there was one specific study that was used in regards to drug addicts. One system had them randomly testing you once a month, and if they caught you on drugs, you’d immediately get a three day jail sentence. The other system had them randomly testing you once a week, and any positives got you a few hours of community service. The latter system (more likely to get caught for lesser punishment) had a bigger impact on re-offending than the former (less likely to get caught but harsher punishment)

      The same debate goes on a lot in economics too irt fines and whatnot, but regardless, yes, the data does back up your skepticism.

  7. EveryZig says

    It might be because I generally don’t recognize people by their faces, but I would consider intentional permanent damage to the face to be in a category with intentional permanent disabling of a limb or the spine. In other words, worse than “regular” assault but still a more extreme form of assault than a form of killing.

  8. agender says

    And to my experience the term “identity murder” is approppriate for each of the violence mentioned in the article.
    I have never been model beautiful, but if a woman is (or could be, and was disfigured before she could attempt a career), having to embark at a different way to make a living can be called “identity murder” and should come with US damage sums (this is also where German law sucks)

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