A young, LGBTQI woman’s memory is being erased as the Italian press “romanticise” the man who murdered her
BY JANE FAE (WITH ADDITIONAL INPUT FROM NOVIOLENZADONNE). IMAGE TWITTER.
There is a meltdown happening on Italian Twitter right now. For once, it is a bit more than froth, for it shines a disturbing light on an issue that is, quite literally, life and death for women and minorities.
At its heart are three hashtags. First, and pretty self-explanatory is #femminicidio (“femicide”). Second is #ElisaPomarelli, a tribute and a memorial to the latest victim of Italy’s femminicidio epidemic.
The third, #gigantebuono (“the good giant”) or even #gigantebuonouncazzo (“the fuck he’s a good giant”) is less obvious as the cause of the outrage and needs further explanation.
The basic facts are straightforward. A young woman, Elisa Pomarelli, 28, disappeared on 11 August 2019. Her body was found some 11 days later, in a ravine in woods near Piacenza in northern Italy after the man who killed her, 45-year-old Massimo Sebastiani, confessed.
During that time, Massimo was aided and abetted in his cover-up by his former father-in-law, who showed clearly, by his actions, that he put the feelings of his son-in-law above those of a grieving family.
So far, so ordinary. Men kill women the world over, Italy is no exception.
What has drawn this story out, converting revulsion to outrage, has been the press coverage. Because for three years, Elisa had been friends with Massimo. Friends. Not a lover. But someone who, faced with a man who was socially awkward and had been rejected by many, was prepared to look for the positives.
Unfortunately for Elisa, her good-natured impulse was returned with obsession. According to her own sister, “Elisa became [Massimo’s] reason for living” and, when she decided to end the friendship, he responded with murderous violence.
As a journalist, how do you cover such an event? There is detail here. Much of it depends on statements made by Massimo to the police. The temptation, which must be resisted, is to turn this into “Massimo’s story” – to centre the perpetrator in his own version of events and sometimes subtly, sometimes less so, to minimise the enormity of what he has done.
Surely, no responsible journalist would do such a thing? That though is to ignore the culpability of the Italian press, which has been doing this sort of thing for decades.
Almost all newspapers have failed in their coverage of Elisa’s death, though perhaps the worst – which I will not link to for that reason – was the small, right-wing newspaper ilgiornale.it, which turned the story into romantic tragedy, a sort of “Romeo and Juliet” for our times.
Under a heading that spoke of a, “good giant and unrequited love”, they focused on the affection shown, and his “ready smile”. Because hey! Massimo is just your regular sort of guy. And then they added comment – unashamed victim-blaming – from Massimo’s friends: If she did not want a relationship with him, how come she kept seeing him?
Why, they ask, did she deceive (“illudere”) him? Because, of course, when a woman ends up dead, it is her fault.
Absent from most narratives is Elisa herself. At least, that is, until this week when two journalists dug a little deeper. One reason why the relationship was going nowhere was that Elisa prefered women to men. Not only that, but she had made that very clear to Massimo.
In fact, as the writers conclude, “A no is always a no, irrespective of the sexual orientation of who says it”. But this is Italy 2019, just recovering from a year and a half of a blatant war waged against same-sex attraction. And women.
Coming into power in 2018, Matteo Salvini, leader of the far-right Lega, rejoiced in his ability to restore to government forms the requirement to identify as a “mother” and “father”, instead of “parent one” and “parent two”.
Ambushed by a young lesbian couple taking selfies at one of his political events he made clear: “Screw who you want to: but hands off ‘the family’”. Others in his party made clear their view: that it was “the duty of women to be mothers.”
In the same period, two young men, members of the even further right party Casa Pound were accused of assaulting migrant women. What were their lawyers – and through them, the press – concerned with? Why, only the fact that these poor lads were stressed out by being investigated.
The problem is this: press the world over continues to romanticise such events. As this tweet* reveals, not even leading Italian newspaper Repubblica is immune.
A TIME FOR CHANGE
There are reasons for that: in the case of a murder, the public are eager – perhaps too eager – for gory detail and, when the victim is no more, the main source for information becomes, too often, the perpetrator. But that is all the more reason to tread with care. To make sure that in your eagerness for copy, you do not become simply a mouthpiece for trashing the victim.
It is possible that this is an important moment for the Italian Press, akin to stories such as Hillsborough or Lucy Meadows, when the public was so disgusted by the way the press dealt with an issue that, for a while at least, some improvement followed.
On Italian Twitter, new Equalities Minister Elena Bonetti is joined by former President of the Chamber of Deputies and the Union Of Italian Women in condemning both the outrage and the coverage of Elisa’s story.
Will it make a difference? One can only hope.
Meanwhile, if you see any British press taking this story up, remember: this is not about a “good giant” in love. It is about a young woman, removed from life. A young woman called Elisa Pomarelli. Remember her.
*“Well done, Valerio Varesi, and all at Repubblica: with the romanticisation of a femicide, male solidarity has shown itself equal to that of the ex father-in-law of the (presumed) killer. We are still in 1819.”
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