Florence roiled by rape cases in­volv­ing Amer­i­cans

Santa Fe New Mexican - - NATION & WORLD - By Ja­son Horowitz

FLORENCE, Italy — As a group of Amer­i­can stu­dents study­ing abroad fol­lowed their pro­fes­sor on a field trip through an ex­quis­ite Re­nais­sance palazzo, an Ital­ian tele­vi­sion re­porter around the cor­ner of­fered view­ers a dif­fer­ent kind of tour.

In the apart­ment build­ing where two of the stu­dents’ classmates lived, he dra­mat­i­cally pointed to the el­e­va­tor and stair­case where, the two stu­dents say, two uni­formed mem­bers of the coun­try’s iconic Cara­binieri po­lice force raped them in the predawn hours of Sept. 7.

The of­fi­cers have been sus­pended; they ad­mit­ted to prose­cu­tors that they had sex with the young women, ages 21 and 19, after meet­ing them while on duty and in uni­form at a pop­u­lar night­club and giv­ing them a lift home in their squad car.

The stu­dents, whose names have not been re­leased, told prose­cu­tors they were drunk and were raped. But the of­fi­cers said that the women were not in­tox­i­cated, and that the sex was con­sen­sual.

The episode has es­pe­cially touched nerves in a city where Amer­i­can stu­dents help fuel the econ­omy, but also can be seen, and heard, drink­ing on the streets. Many na­tive Floren­tines are mov­ing out of the city, and those who re­main are in­creas­ingly both­ered by the pro­lif­er­a­tion of people who are speak­ing English in Florence and dis­gusted by the drunken be­hav­ior on their streets.

On Amer­i­can cam­puses, de­bates over what does and does not con­sti­tute con­sent and sex­ual assault, par­tic­u­larly when large quan­ti­ties of al­co­hol are at play, have be­come per­va­sive and po­lit­i­cally charged.

Those del­i­cate dis­cus­sions, though, have largely not made it over to Italy.

In Florence the ac­cu­sa­tions have in­stead gen­er­ated cringe­wor­thy media cov­er­age and con­ver­sa­tions about Amer­i­can stu­dents be­hav­ing badly, with Ital­ian tele­vi­sion news pro­grams ac­com­pa­ny­ing reports with sup­ple­men­tal footage of anony­mous women walk­ing in short leather skirts.

And the thorny is­sues of vic­tim­hood, and where bad judg­ment ends and mal­ice be­gins, have been eclipsed by the na­tional dis­gust over the in­volve­ment of mem­bers of the Cara­binieri, a po­lice force that op­er­ates un­der the con­trol of the De­fense Min­istry and is cel­e­brated with col­lectible cal­en­dars and tele­vi­sion dra­mas.

“I felt that I could al­ways trust the po­lice or the Cara­binieri,” said Katie Burns, a 19-year-old sopho­more from Bos­ton who is study­ing at the Isti­tuto Lorenzo de’ Medici, the school the two Amer­i­can women at­tended in Florence. (The school de­clined to com­ment.) “That they are the ones who did this is shock­ing. The ad­vice from the school is ‘Don’t trust any­one.’ ”

That mes­sage is a night­mare for Florence. The U.S. con­sul gen­eral, Ben­jamin V. Wohlauer, who has met with the mayor and other lead­ers, noted in a state­ment that among other ben­e­fits, Floren­tine of­fi­cials highly val­ued the “economic” con­tri­bu­tion of U.S. cit­i­zens.

The city’s au­thor­i­ties have em­pha­sized that they see this as an iso­lated in­ci­dent; that jus­tice will be meted out quickly; and that Florence, a mecca for studyabroad stu­dents, re­mains safe.

“Our fear is that from to­day, a for­eign stu­dent who sees an of­fi­cer in uni­form might be wor­ried,” Mayor Dario Nardella said, adding that he was work­ing with the U.S. Con­sulate, scores of Amer­i­can uni­ver­si­ties and law en­force­ment agen­cies to make sure stu­dents had faith in the city’s uni­formed po­lice of­fi­cers.

The mayor is des­per­ate to avoid the sen­sa­tion­al­ism that in­un­dated Peru­gia a decade ago dur­ing the long trial of Amanda Knox, an Amer­i­can col­lege stu­dent ac­cused, and ul­ti­mately ex­on­er­ated, of mur­der.

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