Today I would like to let the young generations know the story of a woman who particularly touched me, a very courageous woman, in a Sicily with archaic customs at the time. A girl's "no" was a very difficult word to pronounce in 1965 but it contributed, even if not immediately, to changing the course of events. You must know that until 1981 in the Italian Penal Code there was an aberrant article, the art. 544 which, with reference to the crime of rape, stated as follows: "For the crimes envisaged by the first item and by article 530, the marriage, which the offender contracts with the offended person, extinguishes the crime, also with regard to those who competed in the crime itself; and, if there has been a conviction, its execution and penal effects cease”.
Thus, a person convicted of rape could avoid going to prison if he married the person he had raped. This was what Filippo Melodia hoped to do, who on December 26, 1965 kidnapped 17-year-old Franca Viola, raped her and kept her segregated for 8 days. Viola was a Sicilian girl who lived in Alcamo with her family, parents and brother who was 8 years old at the time.
Before this tragic event she had been engaged to Filippo Melodia, but the promise of marriage had been dissolved by the girl's father, Bernardo Viola, because Melodia had been arrested for theft and belonging to a mafia gang.
Even before the kidnapping, he had suffered several threats and someone had set fire to their vineyard and the adjoining farmhouse.
Franca Viola was taken away from her home by her ex-boyfriend together with 12 other people who attacked and beat her mother and also took away with them her brother Mariano who had attached himself to Franca's leg to try to save her and who was released shortly after .
Franca was raped, beaten and left to starve, then held in solitary confinement for eight days, initially in a cottage outside the town and, subsequently, in the house of Melodia's sister in Alcamo itself; Franca's parents, in agreement with the police, organized a meeting with the kidnapper for the so-called "paciata" or a meeting aimed at putting the families in front of the fait accompli and getting Franca's parents to accept the marriage of the two young people. Evidently, they pretended to accept the shotgun wedding only to find out where the girl was being held captive.
The police thus broke into Melodia's sister's house, saved Franca and arrested Filippo and all the accomplices. According to the morality of the time, a girl who emerged from such an affair would necessarily have to marry her captor, thus saving her "honor" like that of the family. Otherwise, she could have remained a "spinster" and singled out as a "shameless woman".
The Viola family publicly refused the marriage and for this reason the man was arrested and tried in Trapani in December 1966. The story became known nationwide, raised strong controversies and became the subject of numerous parliamentary interpellations.
At the trial, the prosecutor asked for 22 years in prison for Melodia who tried to discredit Franca first by saying that she was consenting to the elopement and, later, by asking for an expert report to understand how long ago she had had sexual intercourse.
Obviously this request, absolutely irrelevant to the decision, was rejected.
The position of Bernardo Viola – in the opinion of the writer, "a great father" – was adamant: "My daughter will never marry the man who kidnapped and dishonored her!". The proceedings ended with the defendant being sentenced to 11 years with customary extenuating circumstances.
Discounted 10 years in prison and 2 years of mandatory stay near Modena where, on April 13, 1978, he was assassinated by unknown persons with a shotgun. Franca Viola, on the other hand, despite Melodia's threats, married Giuseppe Ruisi in 1968 and gave birth to two children and now resides in Alcamo.
Initially, she tried to dissuade Ruisi from marrying her for fear of retaliation from Melodia who, during the trial, had threatened to kill anyone who married her.
Later, she will reveal that her future husband told her not to fear retaliation and that it was: "Better to live ten years with you than all your life with another". Franca Viola is considered the first Italian woman to refuse a shotgun wedding and is a feminist icon, a symbol of courageous post-war female emancipation.
A few years ago, during an interview, he said: “It wasn't a courageous gesture. I only did what I felt like doing, as any woman would do today: I listened to my heart, the rest came by itself. Today I advise young people to follow their feelings; it is not difficult. I did it in a very different Sicily; they can do it simply by looking into their hearts.” The provision invoked in favor of the aggressor was repealed only 16 years after the events.
Rape in 1996 will finally be recognized not as a crime against morality, but as a crime against the person.
On 8 March 2014, on the occasion of Women's Day, Franca Viola was awarded the honor of Grand Officer of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic at the Quirinale by the President of the Republic Giorgio Napolitano with the following motivation: "For the courageous gesture of refusal of shotgun marriage which marked a fundamental stage in the history of women's emancipation in our country”.
After having met Pope Paul VI in audience, in 2017 she was also received by Pope Francis. In my opinion, Franca Viola is truly a great woman. With her strength and determination she ensured that a hateful and highly damaging article of women's rights was repealed.
He deserves respect and recognition from everyone. Women and men.