Dust, and the problem of Relationship Violence in Italy?

There are many types of abuse, physical abuse being the kind most people are familiar with. Relationship abuse, also known as intimate partner abuse, is an umbrella term used to describe the many types of emotional, physical, and psychological abuse that can happen within a relationship. Every country the world over has struggled with this problem, especially when it comes to violence against women, and Italy is no different.

Italy has made the news in recent years for several bizarre femicide cases, including a 16 year old who was stabbed 20 times in the chest, a waitress shot by her husband, and a 52 year old woman who was shot in the stomach. In one case, nearly 2 decades old, a judge dismissed a sexual assault case against a young woman because the jeans she had been wearing were too tight. This spawned an international outcrying and even a day of awareness against sexual assault and victim blaming. Even though this event was nearly 20 years ago, the problem hasn’t disappeared. That is what Dust is about. The play follows the emotionally abusive relationship between a man and a woman (simply He and She) and cycles through almost every single section of the Wheel of Power and Control, a common tool that identifies underlying methods of abuse. Dust playwright, Saverio La Ruina, has said that the play is about the mundaneness of language, and “how apparently plain, banal language can become an instrument of violence,” and there couldn’t be a better descriptor. At every turn of phrase, and every scene you can feel the manipulation behind the plain words. The small put downs, and hurtful statements are the bricks that build the walls of that relationship prison. That kind of male dominance is a huge implication in intimate partner violence. A recent World Health Organization report about violence against women stated that “the importance of challenging social norms that support male authority and control over women and sanction or condone violence against women” is one of the keys in preventing it. That same report estimated that 35% of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence. That’s just over 1 in 3 women who’ve experienced violence in a relationship. In the US we have infrastructure in place to assist women in leaving those relationships, but Italy is a different story. Over 90% of 21000 women surveyed in Italy did not report abuse to the police. And those that did report would often be stuck living with their abuser if the case went to trial because there aren’t many options for places to go. A recommendation from the Council of Europe states countries should have one place in a shelter for a woman and her children for every 10,000 residences of that country; when you do the math for Italy that comes out to about 5700 shelter places. Italy has barely 500. That’s only 65 shelters for the whole country; Chicago has 15 within its city limits. Recently, Italy has taken steps to combat this epidemic, including passing laws which increase the punishments for perpetrators of violence, as well as making it easier to remove men from the home when they are both the homeowner and the abuser.

All of this can seem disheartening, where can we start to improve? What can we do? Awareness is the first step in addressing any issue, and plays like Dust can do that. It functions as a case study of how we can change our language, look for key points of relationship tension, and even warning signs or indication of abuse.

Blog by Dramaturg Sarah Kroth