They shake, they isolate themselves, they have nightmares, they suffer from attention deficit disorder at school, they show sudden aggressiveness, stuttering, psoriasis. “They feel wretched, they have constant flashbacks, they blame themselves,” Agnese says. “Do not ask for my last name, it does not matter. I am only one of many.”
She is the foster aunt of two orphans of a femicide and the story she reads in the Aldo Moro audience room of the Italian Chamber of Deputies is detailed and moving. She describes her experience when the two children, then 12 and 10 years old, got to her house two years ago, still in shock by what they had seen and experienced.
Agnese explains: “They are the children of my sister Silvana. She was a nursery school teacher killed with three gunshot wounds by her husband, a security guard. Theirs is a threefold tragedy, since they have found themselves suddenly orphans of both parents, even though their father is still alive in prison. They have experienced war, with gunfire and blood in the house, the place that should have been safe and secure, and the shock of an earthquake, because they had to leave the house naked, after it was seized. They were not able to go back to pick their stuff, games, clothes, school books.”
Agnese, with her husband, Giovanni Paolo, agreed to participate in the conference which was held Sunday in the Chamber for the presentation of the intervention guidelines for those who are internationally defined as special orphans and are, for all intents and purposes, the unrecognized victims of violence against women.
Their needs and traumas are not discussed in Italy or in the rest of Europe. A first study titled “Switch-off” was funded by the E.U. In Italy, the study was led by the Italian criminologist Anna Costanza Baldry, at the Department of Psychology of the Second University of Naples. It was carried out in collaboration with the Dire network of anti-violence centers. Similar studies were carried out with the same methodology in Cyprus and Lithuania. Two other previous studies are reported in Germany and the Netherlands.
The study was presented by Baldry herself Sunday, at the conference and during a private meeting with the president of the Chamber, Laura Boldrini. It is not an academic paper but an “in the field” study, because the sample of children and their interviewed guardians is not representative at the national level. Out of 1,628 orphans of femicide identified in the last 15 years, only 123 agreed to cooperate and answer the questions of the investigators. Some after many years of the tragic event that affected their family.
Nevertheless, a clear picture emerges. For example, in 84 percent of cases, the children witnessed the murder of the mother and in 81 percent of cases they had seen previous episodes of violence in the home, a focus that has allowed to define the guidelines of what can be done to alleviate their trauma.
First, the acknowledgement that they are also second-degree victims of the femicide, as recognized by the National Ombudsman for Children and Adolescents Filomena Albano. Titti Carrano, president of Dire, argues that “the children, even when they are witnesses of the violent acts, are seldom heard by the judge, who could do this while gathering evidence before a criminal trial. Then, they tend to favor shared custody so the custody by the father, the attacker, is not suspended right away, to prevent any more encounters and any civil consequences.”
Agnese, the foster aunt, adds that in addition to income support to promote reliance on parental families to the fourth degree, financial support should be given to everyone. She says: “I found out that in Milan, they wondered why 1,500 families in three decades had given up parental custody because they could not afford to support the orphans. Since 2012, they have been paying €350 for each minor entrusted every month and this helped with the costs. The boarding costs paid to family homes and communities are in fact between €2,000 to €6,000 every month.”
Another problem was reported: Once the judge suspended the parental responsibility of the femicidal father, a guardian is appointed for matters of inheritance, but very often it is the same organization that assists the minor. “The times are long and there is an obvious conflict of interest,” concludes Agnese.