(Mar. 3, 2009) A decree increasing the penalty for rape was issued by Italy's government on February 20, 2009; it will go into effect immediately, but must be approved by both houses of the parliament within 60 days. The punishment for the rape of a minor or for an attack in which the victim is killed will now be a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment. In addition, the decree increases the speed with which sex offenders caught in the act can be tried, eliminates house arrest as a possible sentence, and establishes free legal assistance to victims of sexual assault. The decree also increases from two months to six the length of time an immigrant can be detained while an asylum request is processed.
Another provision of the new decree creates unarmed, citizen street patrols, which are expected to have retired police officers and soldiers in prominent roles. Those taking part in the patrols would be volunteers and would use mobile phones or radios to communicate with authorities, according to Interior Minister Roberto Maroni.
Although the rate of sexual assaults declined in the last year in Italy, three well-publicized recent cases have raised concern. In all three prominent cases, the suspects are immigrants. Critics of the new measure are concerned that it unfairly links violent, sexual offenses with immigration status and could lead to increased vigilante activity and xenophobic sentiments in the country. (Italy Passes Emergency Rape Law, BBC NEWS, Feb. 20, 2009, available at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/7902107.stm; Emergency Rape Law: Italy Passes Decree, BILD.COM, Feb. 20, 2009, available at http://www.bild.de/BILD/news/bild-english/home/regularieninhalte/world-news-ti