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An honor killing is the homicide of a member of a family by other members, due to the belief of the perpetrators that the victim has brought dishonor upon the family or community. The United Nations estimate for the number of honor killings in the world is 5,000 per year, and most people associate it with Muslim culture, a generalization both dangerous and incorrect: in Italy, the legal system recognized honor as an 'extenuating circumstance' in murders until 1981. Prior to its reversal, a law provided a reduced penalty of imprisonment of only three to seven years for a man who killed his wife, sister or daughter to vindicate his or his family's honor. "Until thirty years ago, it was common to hear about honor killings among Italians. But now when a man kills his wife, they call it a crime of passion," argues Cinzia Tani, an Italian writer and journalist. "It's the same concept taking different names: a man kills a woman of his family in order to assert his control over her body. The only difference is that back then the homicide of a woman was 100 percent acceptable." (from

In 1905, sculptor Filippo Cifariello, who married 19-year-old Maria de Brown, found her with a lover and killed her: he did not spend one day in jail. In 1951, Giuseppe Grimaldi hanged his 15-year-old daughter, Maria Teresa, because she ran away from home and had a bad reputation in town. A justifiable act for the media that called him ‘an honorable man’, a ‘desperate father’. In 1954, Luigi Millefiorini killed his wife because she had a lover and spent 7 months in jail. In 1978, Alfonso La Gala killed his wife with an iron pipe because, he said, she told him that she had fallen in love with somebody else: 2 years in jail, and no mention of it in his criminal record.

Even if the law changed in 1981, society did not catch up yet: in 2007, Renato Di Felice served only two days in prison for killing his wife, Dr. Maria Concetta Pitasi, a gynecologist, because she humiliated him constantly. The judge who let him out was a woman, Vincenzina Massa, and she strongly believed that the man was not a danger to society. 24-year-old Giovanni Morabito shot his unmarried sister three times in 2006 for having a child out of wedlock. He told the police. "I am not sorry, it is a question of honor. On the contrary, I am proud of what I did."

The belief that a woman’s chastity and body are the property of her family is a horrific cultural norm that comes from ancient tribal days. Women were not always the victims: in the late 1800s and early 1900s many Italian women killed their partners in the United States when they felt dishonored by them, when they started a sexual reltionship with the promise of marriage only to find out that the men were already married in Italy or they just would not marry them. Hopefully society will catch up.