“My ex partner didn’t want me to go to work and have my own money, then he started taking away my ATM: it was his way of controlling me. I no longer knew how to pay the expenses, so one night I left: with my three daughters I moved to my elderly parents’ house, I had no other choice. Now six of us live in an apartment: there is a lack of space and privacy, the relationship between us has become more and more complicated”.
Roberta (the name is fictitious, like that of the other women mentioned in this article who have sought a way out of an abusive relationship) is almost 50 years old and comes from the suburbs of Rome. After contacting an anti-violence center, she applied for the Lazio region’s freedom contribution for women who find themselves in a similar situation and received five thousand euros in income support. “With that money I wanted to rent a house, but I couldn’t because I don’t have a paycheck or other guarantees”, she says. “Now I find myself in limbo: what protections are there for women who find the courage to report? Where is the state when we need a home and a job to start over?”.
According to Istat, 38 percent of women included in a path to exit violence also suffered economic violence. This is a little-recognized form of abuse: a survey carried out by the Differenza Donna association on a sample of 284 women shows that only 20 percent already say in the first interview that they have suffered it, while during subsequent meetings the figure rises to 80 percent.
“Financial abuse is often disguised as a form of care and concern on the part of the partner”, explains Simona Lanzoni, vice president of the Pangea foundation and coordinator of the national anti-violence network Reama, who opened the Mia Economia desk on economic violence. “The man offers to manage the woman’s finances as he is ‘more experienced’, or he suggests that she leave her job so she doesn’t ‘work hard’ or to allow her to take care of the family. Over time, a situation of total dependency and infantilization is created.”
In the hearing to the work commission of the chamber on 8 February 2022, Linda Laura Sabbadini, from the management of Istat, explained that “the lack of economic independence seems to force women to suffer violence for longer periods”. 60 percent of women included in protected pathways do not have financial autonomy, a figure that rises to 69 percent if one considers the 18-29 age group. “Many don’t have a job or a place to go,” says Lanzoni. “The aid provided by the state is legal, psychological, and only ultimately economic. Yet it is essential to support them in a path of autonomy from the beginning: without a job and a bank account, how can they start living again?
“National guidelines have not been adopted to assess the state of need of the applicants”, explains Mariangela Zanni
The ActionAid Rights in the balance survey shows that from 2015 to 2022 Italy spent around 157 million euros to support ways out of violence, of which around 20 million in income support measures, 124 million in integration projects work and 12 million to promote housing independence. Yet the tools adopted are considered fragmented and inadequate. “National and regional institutions continue to finance individual projects and not structural policies,” explains Isabella Orfano, coordinator of the ActionAid survey. “They range from job orientation activities to poorly paid internships, from microcredit to obtain low-interest loans to vouchers for the partial payment of rents or deposits. The decision to delegate these interventions to the regions risks widening the territorial gaps: there is a lack of common guidelines on the minimum services to be guaranteed to women. And that perpetuates unequal access.”
Few funds for many questions
To respond to the new needs born with the health emergency, in May 2020 the relaunch decree established the freedom income: for the first time, the government introduced economic support on a national basis for women trying to get out of a situation of violence and find themselves in a condition of poverty, to favor their economic independence and paths towards autonomy. This is a contribution of 400 euros per month for a maximum of twelve months: it only became operational in November 2021, and was made structural by the budget law approved on 30 December 2021. For the period between 2020 and 2022, the measure is It was financed with 12 million euros, from which a maximum of 2,500 women can benefit: a small number, if we consider that according to Istat, every year around 21,000 people placed in paths to exit violence would have the requisites to access it.
The data collected by INPS show that in 2020 alone 3,283 requests were received and that the contributions paid were just 600. The regions with the highest number of applications accepted in absolute terms are Lombardy (101), Campania (70) and Sicily (57), while in percentage terms the territories with more unfulfilled requests compared to the total were Umbria and Puglia (88 per cent), Emilia-Romagna (87 per cent) and Piedmont (86 per cent). In no region, however, were the contributions sufficient to satisfy the requests received.
“National guidelines have not been adopted to assess the need of the applicants”, explains Mariangela Zanni, president of the Veneto Women’s Projects Center and councilor of the national association Women on the Net against Violence (DiRe), which in Italy collects more than one hundred anti-violence centers and more than 50 shelters. “Today there is a ‘first come, first served’ principle: women can apply and be eligible, but once the funds have run out they will not get the grant anyway. And even for the few who make it, the amount is not enough to pay for rent, utilities and daily expenses, in addition to the fact that twelve months are not enough to rebuild a life”.
Those who can also resort to other measures to support families, such as bonuses for rent or for bills, or to combat poverty, such as the basic income, which from 2024 will be abolished and replaced with a new subsidy: solutions which, however, are not always feasible, also due to access requirements. Among these is the ISEE, an unreliable indicator because it refers to the previous year: many women who have recently come out of an abusive relationship are unable to produce a statement separate from that of the abuser, and for this reason they do not have access to some social welfare services.
It happened to Caterina, who a few months ago left her violent partner, resigned and moved from the north to Rome together with her two daughters. To start over, she would like to ask for the basic income, but her Isee is too high, so today she does not have access to support measures and she has to pay in full for the canteen of the child who attends elementary school. For the moment she lives with her sister and daughters in an occupied building, and she has found an illegal job as a cleaner. In the meantime she has applied for the freedom income, but she has not yet received an answer.
The regions move in random order
On income support measures, some regions had already moved before the national government: with the “dignity income” Puglia in 2016 activated specific paths for women recovering from violence, including them in measures to combat poverty. In 2018, Sardinia was the first to adopt a regional freedom income, which consists of a monthly subsidy of a minimum of 780 euros for a maximum of three years. In the same year, Lazio instituted the “freedom contribution”, allocating a one-off maximum of five thousand euros to the beneficiaries. Molise and Veneto have also tried to go in the same direction: in the first case, a bill has been filed which has not yet been approved, while in the second the proposal for a regional freedom income has not been accepted. However, Veneto, like Puglia, guarantees economic support to women recovering from violence through the tool to combat poverty.
Among the other regions, Abruzzo ensures economic support through local social services, Campania has provided contributions for a maximum period of one year to cover the expenses necessary to get away from the abuser, while Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Emilia -Romagna have made available additional resources to enhance the income of national freedom. “Often the access criteria between the national and local measure are different, excluding some groups and creating disparities between territories”, continues Isabella Orfano. “The fragmentary nature of the interventions and the dispersive allocation of resources do not allow for assessing the effectiveness of these tools, nor for detecting the real needs in the individual regions”.
Starting again from work and from home
To leave the abuser’s house, you need an income, yet in 2021 only 40 percent of women accepted in anti-violence facilities had a job. “To encourage job placement, internships, job grants, training courses, orientation and tutoring activities are offered, which however often fail to satisfy the specific needs of those leaving an abusive relationship”, observes Federica Scrollini, operator of the center anti-violence BeFree in Rome. “For single mothers, for example, there is the problem of access to nursery schools: where public structures do not have enough places, it is necessary to turn to private ones, which, however, cost a lot. And then there is the question of travel: many cannot afford a car and this prevents them from accepting jobs in areas where public transport is lacking”.
Connected to the problem of work is that of the house: women who come out of an abusive relationship often find it difficult to pay a deposit or a rent, even worse a mortgage. This is why they are four times more likely to experience situations of housing hardship: they are forced to move frequently, live in undeclared rooms, suffer evictions or find themselves living in overcrowded lodgings, in some cases together with their children.
Some even end up in dormitories for homeless people: this is the case of Carmela, who at the age of more than 50 found herself housed in a homeless facility in Rome, after having moved away from home following yet another assault by her partner. “When she contacted us, Carmela didn’t have a job and she didn’t want to ask for help from her children who lived far away,” says Federica Scrollini. “She In the end she overcame her shame and returned to Puglia with her sister. Those who can turn to their families of origin, those who cannot rely on anti-violence centres, which fall back on any extensions of the stay of women in shelters, second-welcome homes or other temporary accommodations”.
This is what Fatoumata did, who after leaving her husband did not know where to go with her three younger children. Fatoumata comes from Africa, she has no relatives in Italy and she could not ask for help from the community of her country present in the city, for fear of being traced. Her only option was her safe house. “Various fragilities almost always intersect”, concludes Scrollini. “Economic problems add up to housing, psychological and social problems. Without structural intervention, women who want to get out of an abusive relationship will always encounter enormous obstacles to regaining their autonomy”.