Florence roiled by rape cases involving Americans
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.