Franca Viola: The Woman Who Defied Italian Tradition by Refusing to Marry Her Rapist
Born January 7th, 1947, Franca Viola was a beautiful seventeen year old who grew up in the small Sicilian town of Alcamo, Sicily with her farming family. She dated Filippo Melodia, a young man with Mafia connections, for several months in 1963 before rejecting him.
Determined to get his girl, Melodia waited until Viola’s father was out of the house, then stormed in with 15 friends and abducted her. He held her prisoner in a remote farmhouse for over a week, during which he raped her. Viola’s father pretended to come to terms with the kidnappers while actually collaborating with the Carabinieri police in preparing a successful dragnet operation. After more than a week, Franca Viola was released and her kidnappers arrested.
Of course, Melodia offered Franca reparation marriage. Traditionally, such an appalling crime would be excused if the couple later wed in a “reparative marriage”, the man forgiven for his violence and the woman’s “honor” restored. This was not just an informal tradition, but an explicit exception in the Italian criminal code.
Instead, Viola took Melodia to court for kidnapping, “carnal violence,” and intimidation. This marked the beginning of the family’s troubles. Most of the townfolk ostracized them. Franca’s father received death threats. Their family were menaced and persecuted, to the point of having their vineyard and cottage burned to the ground.
The trial was a sensation in Alcamo and beyond. Crowds flocked to debates about the trial, which were later relayed by the New York Times with the most patronizing of headlines: “No Admirers Call On Sicily’s Franca.”
Despite being the central figure of these events, the public narrative overshadowed Viola’s thoughts and aims on the matter. Newspaper reports described her as “gentle,” “slim,” and “pretty.”
Melodia was ultimately found guilty and sentenced to 11 years in prison (later appealed down to ten), with seven of his accomplices receiving four-year terms
A May 1967 dispatch reported that Viola, the triumphant legal trailblazer, seemed “destined to live as a spinster.” In a panel discussion on Italian television, local men unanimously agreed that Viola had shown great courage but that none of them, personally, would have the same courage to marry her.
n December 1968, in a ceremony held in the early morning to avoid throngs of supporters, 20-year-old Franca Viola wed her childhood friend, 25-year-old Giuseppe Ruisi. The president of the Italian republic sent them a gift on their wedding day and Poe Paul VI received them in a private audience.
Filippo Melodia was released from prison in 1976. Two years later, he was killed in a mafia-style execution.
Franca Viola had two sons and one granddaughter and still lives in Alcamo with her husband. When asked to comment on the stance she took against archaic values and behavioural mores, she said, “It was not a courageous gesture. I only did what I felt I had to do, as any other girl would do today.