“I do not love you! I will not marry you!” – The story of Franca Viola

Honour and respect are traditional customs that have been engrained and deeply rooted in the minds of the Italian people for generations. Opposing these traditions would result in absolute shame to the person and their family.

Franca Viola was the first Italian woman in history subjected to these conditions during her courageous battle against an Italian convention that would repair her honour if she was to marry the man that assaulted and raped her.

franca viola portrait
Franca Viola – Alcamo, Sicily

Franca was born in the rural town of Alcamo in Sicily and at the very young age of 15, she  became engaged to Filippo Melodia, a young man with ties to the Sicilian Mafia.

6 months after her engagement, she was unhappy and decided to leave Melodia, who was later arrested for theft and forced to leave for Germany.

Franca moved on with her life where she dated another man and their relationship became somewhat serious. It was at this point that Melodia returned to Alcamo, forcefully trying to re-enter Franca’s life.

After rejecting him, Melodia couldn’t accept her refusal and so he resorted to violent measures with the belief that the Italian justice system would be on his side.

In the early hours of the morning on the 26th of December 1965, Melodia patiently waited for Viola’s father to leave the house before breaking into their home with 15 of his accomplices.

They kidnapped Franca by dragging her to the car while beating Franca’s mother in the process. Franca’s younger brother refused to let go of his sister during her kidnapping so he too was taken from the family home, only to be released soon after.

Franca was kept at a farmhouse for more than a week where Melodia repeatedly assaulted and raped her. Viola’s father pretended to negotiate with the kidnappers, while really he was collaborating with the Carabinieri police in preparing a successful rescue operation.

Viola was released and her kidnappers arrested.

franca viola with detectives
Viola speaks to police after being rescued from her captors

franca viola with detectives
Traditionally, such an appalling crime could be excused if the woman was to agree to a ‘reparative marriage’ – the man would be forgiven for his violence and the woman’s honour would be restored.

This was not just an informal tradition, but an explicit exception in the Italian Criminal Code under Article 544.

But Franca refused to marry Melodia and instead decided to take him to court for kidnapping, violence and intimidation, all with the support of her friends and family.

After her refusal of a reparative marriage was known to the public, it was reported than Franca’s family members were menaced, shunned and harassed by many of the townspeople, even to the point where her family’s vineyard and barn were burnt down to the ground.

franca viola covered from paparazzi while walking to car
Viola is covered from the press during the trial.

These events along with the trial had wide resonance in Alcamo and beyond. Crowds would flock to debates about the trial and the story became known internationally, even being featured in the New York Times.

With the eyes of the public on Viola, her statement to her rapist from the stand became a rallying cry for other women to follow suit.

“I do not love you! I will not marry you!”

crowd of men at debate during trial
Crowds of men attend a public debate about the trial.
filippo melodia behind bars during trial
Filippo Melodia and his accomplices await trial behind bars

At the end of the trial, Melodia was found guilty and sentenced to 11 years in prison while seven of his accomplices received 4-year terms. Melodia was released in 1976 and was banished from Sicily.

He moved to Modena in northern Italy.

He was murdered 2 years later.

Franca Viola older woman
Franca Viola – international icon for womens rights

In 1968, Franca married her childhood friend Giuseppe Ruisi.

Today she resides in Alcamo with her husband, two sons and grandchildren and is an international icon for women’s rights.

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