As I sit down to write this article, I am harshly reminded that every topic I have previously covered in my young journalistic career has been well removed from my own life and experience. This time, however, the story is much different. In the early morning hours of September 7th, two American girls, hardly older than twenty years old, alleged that they were raped by two Carabinieri police officers in Florence, Italy after a night out. The girls are university students studying abroad in the Tuscan city for the Fall semester of the school year. Florence prosecutors are currently investigating the grave allegations made by the students against the Italian military police.
On the evening between the 6th and 7th of September, the two girls, as part of a larger group went to Flo nightclub near Piazzale Michelangelo towards the outskirts of the city center. According to the Italian publication La Repubblica, a fight broke out among patrons of the nightclub causing three Carabinieri squad cars to arrive in the area. After the disturbance was calmed, two of the squad cars left, leaving one remaining with two officers inside. A friend of mine who was out with the girls on the night in question attested that the group exited the club at different times and broke up to find taxis to their separate residences, with the two girls leaving latest at around 4am.
My friend had already left in a cab when “the officers offered them a ride”, she said, referring to the victims of the attack. The officers then drove them home where the Carabinieri “walked them inside and raped them in the hallway of their apartment building”.
According to Italian media, this part of the story is where a certain inconsistency in the girls’ statements to police comes to light regarding where the attack took place. One girl said she was attacked in the hallway of the apartment building, and the other stated that the other officer attacked her in the elevator. A phone call was made to police soon after by the two girls. They were taken by ambulance to the hospital where they were treated and administered a psychological exam. It was also clear that the girls were under the influence of alcohol, one much more so than the other. The students allegedly were also able to capture a photo of at least one of the men and the squad car, which led to the identification of two men currently under investigation.
Coming from a country where large populations of Americans are unable to fully trust their own police force did not lessen the shock for my peers or me when we heard the news of what had happened. As the investigation is underway, it has already been released that security camera footage shows four figures in the Carabinieri squad car, the two men and the two girls, and that the two officers made a report to central command that they were stopping for a check in the center of Florence in the early hours of September the 7th.
Roberta Pinotti, the Italian Minister of Defense, spoke out about the allegations in Milan friday, stating that “rape is always a grave thing, but it is a thing of unheard gravity to be committed by uniformed Carabinieri.” She articulated that her office has received no official information yet, only media stories, meaning that the two Carabinieri have not yet been suspended from their posts but will be as soon as an official communication is released. Meanwhile, the United States Department of State, in the interest of protecting the privacy of the girls involved, released a statement saying only that “our foreign offices are always ready to assist American citizens that have fallen victim to crimes and that seek assistance in our embassies and our consulates.”
This is not the first time I’ve heard harsh accusations thrown around against the Carabinieri. Italy’s multi-branch police force has been somewhat of an enigma that even the Italians I ask seem unable to puzzle out. A friend of mine recently described the Carabinieri as “racist” due to his own encounters with the Italian military police, but that is simply anecdotal. It is too early in the investigation to know fully what happened on that night, but even if the relations between the girls and the police officers were consensual, and it is pretty clear that relations took place due to the results of the hospital exams, the two Carabinieri would face strong penalties because they were in uniform and on duty when the events in question took place. There has yet been no conviction for the two men under investigation, but it is still clear that for a long while neither I, nor any of my friends, will be accepting rides from Carabinieri.