A Trial for Rape
“Women today are disgusting!” So conclude the women - including the mother of the plaintiff - standing outside the courtroom of the trial of four men for the rape of 18-year-old Fiorella. A Trial for Rape is the record of an actual trial which took place in the Court of Latina, Naples, in 1978, the proceedings of which were taped by a six-woman video collective and edited into a one-hour program for Italian television.
On the promise of a job in a newly established company, Fiorella was driven by an acquaintance to a villa in Nettuno to meet with the partners of the company. There she was raped by four men who threatened to kill her if she told. Fiorella nevertheless reported the rape immediately, and the men were arrested. During the preliminary inquiry, the men asserted that there had been a previous agreement of a payment of 200,000 lire in exchange for sexual intercourse. The trial took place after 8 months of imprisonment for three of the accused (the fourth having disappeared and turning up at the trial).
The court proceedings reveal, not surprisingly, the retrogressive official attitude toward rape, in which it is the woman who is actually the accused, and the scenes outside the courtroom and interviews with the defendants expose without much difficulty the explicit and deep societal support for this stance. Of particular interest, however, is the specifically Neapolitan tradition of “mazetta,” the custom of offering monetary compensation for damages at the beginning of a trial, without necessarily admitting the defendants' guilt. Every offence has its price, and in this case the “mazetta” of 2 million lire is accepted by the court, to be acknowledged as an extenuating circumstance when the sentences are passed, over the protests of the Counsel for the Plaintiff, Tina Lagostena Bassi, and the institution of civil action by the Latina Feminist Movement and the Women's Liberation Movement.
The defense brings in a witness to show that Fiorella is “in fact” a prostitute. Bassi's attack is of a general and political nature. She does not defend Fiorella from the sordid charges, “because a woman has a right to be what she likes,” and instead wants to “accuse a certain method of conducting rape trials.” This method includes such questions from the bench as, “Do you think the girl is worth 200,000 lire?”; speeches for the defense which go into lengthy descriptions of sexual techniques, with Latin phrases and quotations from “the Divine Gabriele” (Gabriele D'Annunzio, Italian poet of the early 20th century); and finally the implication that Fiorella is a “girl of easy virtue, who goes freely with many men and then inexplicably boards the ‘Feminist Cruiser' and fabricates a rape case.”
The sentence is one year and 8 months. Bail is granted, however, and the film ends with the somewhat surprised but exultant faces of the four defendants.