Dating Violence: A Conversation In Remberance Of Italian Student Giulia Ceccettin's Life

The subject is due some serious attention.

May 24, 2024 at 6:29 pm
Dating Violence: A Conversation In Remberance Of Italian Student Giulia Ceccettin's Life

Fall Semester in Italy

For college seniors on the cusp of graduation, the last semester is filled with excitement. After four years of academic rigor, students are finally ready to don their caps and gowns, receive their degrees, and walk across the commencement stage directly into post graduate life. This was what Italian student Giulia Cecchettin was looking forward to in November of 2023. The 22-year-old University of Padua student was five days away from receiving her degree in biomedical engineering.

On November 11, Giulia met with her ex-boyfriend Filippo Turetta, to purchase the outfit she planned to wear when she received her degree. The two had previously dated, however as Giulia’s sister would later state, Filippo was both extremely jealous and possessive in the relationship. Giulia wanted to cut all ties to Turetta, but felt afraid to do so as he regularly threatened suicide.

After stopping for a sandwich at a shopping center, Turetta drove Giulia home where CCTV footage shows him beating her in the car. Giulia attempted to escape, but prosecutors state that he duct taped her mouth shut and forced her to get back into the car. He’d then drive Giulia to an industrial area and continue his attack. After a week long search, Giulia’s body was found at the bottom of a ditch, wrapped in black plastic bags, and riddled with at least 20 knife wounds to the neck and head.

By Definition

The U.S. Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women, defines dating violence as “violence committed by a person who is or has been in a social relationship of a romantic or intimate nature with the victim.” As with most sex and relational crimes, dating violence is about one person obtaining and maintaining power over another in the relationship. “All forms of interpersonal violence come down to power and control,” says Danielle White, the advisor of Brave BU at Bellarmine University. “Sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, stalking; all of these things at the end of the day, come back to issues of power and control,” she continues.

The very name of “dating violence” conjures thoughts of abuse physical force. But dating violence often takes other forms including sexual assault through forcing a partner into a nonconsensual sexual act, economic abuse through controlling a partner’s ability to acquire, use, and maintain resources, and general stalking behaviors. These forms of dating violence routinely accompany psychological aggression.

“If it was just the physical abuse, nobody would stay,” says victims advocate Elaine Hoffmann. “It’s the manipulation, the gaslighting, and the making you feel less than, that allows the abuser to maintain control,” she states. White agrees adding, “sometimes people will mis characterize acts of power and control as acts of romance and passion. For instance, not allowing a partner to see their friends gets turned into ‘my partner loves me so much, they want me to spend all of their time with them.’”

From eliciting guilt, lying, and feigning innocence, to playing mind games and resorting to emotional blackmail, abusers will rely on a wide variety of manipulative tactics to persuade their victims into staying in the toxic union.

Losing Control

As with most interpersonal crimes, dating violence is about control. And when the abuser fears they are losing said control, they’ll sometimes resort to grand displays to regain it. These deceptive tactics may be as simple as showing basic emotion. “He would never hold my hand, kiss me, or hug me,” Hoffman says of her ex. “But if he suspected I was about to leave, then he would turn up the affection and emotional intimacy he knew I was looking for.” Gifts like flowers, jewelry, or in Hoffman’s case, a holiday cruise, can also be used as tools for the abuser to regain control as it slips away.

Sometimes these grand displays are far more extreme. The threats of self-harm like the ones that Turestta made, serve as an example. The National Domestic Violence Hotline states that a partner regularly threatening suicide, especially when their victim is attempting to leave the relationship, is a form of emotional abuse. Victims may feel guilty and thus choose to stay in the relationship despite seeing the clear signs that leaving is necessary.

When perpetrators feel they have totally lost control, homicide can become the final act of the desperate. This was the fate for Giulia as well as for 34% of the 4,970 female victims of murder and nonnegligent manslaughter in 2021, as reported by the United States Department of Justice. This statistic reflects data reported by law enforcement agencies. It is important to know that this data does not reflect incidents that were not reported.

In a 2017 study, British criminology expert Dr. Jane Monckton Smith found an eight-stage pattern that leads to the murder of dating partners. Smith’s research states that once the perpetrator feels that he has exhausted all forms of escalation to retain control, a change of thinking can happen leading the perpetrator to move on, either through revenge or homicide. This leads to the planning stage where the perpetrator may obtain weapons and find opportunities to isolate their victim. It ends with the final stage of homicide, where the victim kills their partner and, in some cases, hurts others such as the victim’s children.

Paths to Prevention

The advice given the victims of dating violence situations, has long been echoed through various resource outlets. “When I am asked to give advice to someone who is experiencing the abuse, so often that advice centers around learning the signs and being able to identify characteristics of an unhealthy relationship,” White says.

While this advice is crucial and sound, it is far past due to have conversations with the perpetrators of dating violence, offering advice that has the power to be preventative. “You know if something you’re doing isn’t right or not healthy,” White says. “So, it’s taking the time to take a breath before you respond to something, recognizing your harmful actions, and then seeking services and support.”

Of course, there still exist stigmas that prevent many from asking for help when it is sorely needed. As White points out though, realizing and seeking to correct toxic and dangerous behavior is the antithesis of“weak.”

“There’s strength in asking for help and seeking support. And there is so much strength in changing the behavior and breaking the cycle.”