Victims of Crime
Help for American Victims of Crime in Italy
Being the victim of a crime in a foreign country can be a devastating and traumatic experience. While no one can undo the emotional trauma, physical injury, or financial loss you may have experienced, the U.S. Embassy in Rome and the U.S. Consulates General in Milan, Florence, and Naples are ready to help. We are very concerned about violent crimes committed against U.S. citizens in Italy. We will assist you in managing the practical consequences of being a crime victim and provide you with information about accessing the local criminal justice system, as well as other resources for crime victims abroad and in the United States. We can assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family or friends on your behalf, and explain how funds can be transferred. We can also help you to better understand the criminal justice system in Italy, which is very different from the system in the United States.
The information included in this guide relating to the legal requirements in Italy is provided for general informational purposes only. The information may not be accurate or relevant to a particular case. Questions involving interpretation of Italian laws should be addressed to legal counsel licensed to practice law in Italy. The investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) may assist local authorities in certain cases of kidnapping, hostage-taking and terrorism.
If you have been the victim of a violent crime in Italy (e.g. sexual assault, rape, robbery), you should seek medical attention at the nearest public hospital as soon as possible following the crime’s occurrence.
Under Italian law, you or your legal representative (i.e. an attorney licensed to practice law in Italy) may file a police report at any police station in Italy To file a police report on your behalf, your attorney must follow a series of very specific procedures. If you plan to hire an attorney to file a police report on your behalf, you must contact the attorney about those procedures prior to departing Italy. No one else can file the report on your behalf, including the U.S. Embassy. Although a police report can also be filed at the Italian Embassy and Consulates in the U.S., it is advisable to file it in Italy, as the procedures for filing a report at an Italian Embassy and Consulate may vary greatly depending on the location and staffing of the Italian mission abroad. Translators and special police officers trained to deal with crime victims are available at some police stations in Italy’s major cities. Italy does not have police officers specifically assigned to assist foreigners.
A police report must be filed within three months of the date the crime occurred. In sexual assault cases only, a police report may be filed within six months of the date that the crime occurred. For the police report to be as useful as possible to Italian investigating authorities, the crime victim should provide as many details as possible to the Italian police. A copy of the police report is not necessarily given to the victim until the investigation is closed. If a victim is unable to obtain a copy of the police report, a victim may request that police authorities provide an explanatory statement regarding the case for crime victim compensation or insurance purposes.
If you have difficulties filing your police report with an Italian official, please contact the U.S. Embassy or Consulate immediately. You may need a police report to file for crime victim compensation or insurance reimbursement. If you do decide to file a report, please send a copy to us, along with your address, phone number and e-mail in the event we need to communicate with you. While we are not authorized to act as your legal representative, prosecutor or investigator, our office can help you track the progress of your case and advise you of any developments.
Many crime investigations never result in the arrest of a subject.
Criminal procedures begin when the public prosecutor is notified of a crime (notizia di reato) by the Italian Judicial Police (Polizia Giudiziaria) or by any citizen. When the public prosecutor is notified of a crime, s/he is obliged to start the preliminary investigation.
The public prosecutor’s office has a maximum of six months to a year (depending on the nature of the crime) to carry out an investigation of a suspect. If an investigation develops into a very complex case (e.g. if the investigation has to be carried out abroad or if the case cannot be concluded in the time allowed), the term for completing the investigation may be extended to between 18 months and 2 years. Requests to extend the term for completing the investigation must be approved by the judge. Crime victims who request to be informed should be notified of each extension, although in practice this often does not occur. Timing in the Italian legal system is very different from the American system. Postponements and delays in the investigations are very frequent making it often impossible to predict the timing necessary for the completion of investigations.
During the investigation, the public prosecutor’s office may collect forensic evidence. Details of ongoing investigations are not usually disclosed. If you are threatened, harassed, or intimidated by the accused during the course of the investigation, you should report such incidents to the closest police station.
A person can be deprived of his/her liberty in order to compel his/her appearance before a court to respond to a criminal charge. An "arrest" occurs when a person has been taken into police custody and is no longer free to leave or move about. In general, an arrest is mandatory in Italy when a law enforcement officer witnesses the commission of a crime (arresto in flagranza), when a person is found in possession of tangible evidence of a crime or when the offense carries a penalty of more than five years' imprisonment. The public prosecutor can also order an arrest (fermo di indiziato di delitto) while an investigation is pending, if there is very serious incriminating evidence against the accused and if there is danger that s/he might flee the jurisdiction.
Police officers must immediately inform the public prosecutor of the arrest. If the public prosecutor deems that the arrest was wrongfully made, the person is immediately released. If the arrest is deemed to be correct, the public prosecutor must ask the judge in charge of the case at this stage (Giudice delle Indagini Preliminari), within 48 hours of the arrest, to approve the arrest (convalida dell'arresto o del fermo). During the 48-hour period thereafter, the judge must hold a hearing to discuss the arrest. At the hearing, the public prosecutor and the defense counsel present their cases and the judge can:
- disapprove the arrest and order the immediate release of the accused; or
- approve the arrest and order a “precautionary measure” (e.g. prohibition to leave the country or house arrest) to prevent the accused from fleeing the country, committing another crime or tampering with the evidence. The law stipulates preventive detention from a minimum of three months up to a maximum of six years depending on the seriousness of the crime.
Italian law does not require that the victim be notified of the arrest. However, the victim may be asked to identify the suspect in a police lineup or by photographs.
Prisoners awaiting trial (or, if already convicted, awaiting the outcome of an appeal) are sometimes conditionally released (rimessione in libertá). The granting of a conditional release is completely at the discretion of the responsible judge or prosecutor. Conditional release generally will not be granted in the case of a prisoner deemed likely to commit another crime if released while awaiting trial, or if the charges are particularly serious.
The preliminary investigation is conducted by the judicial police at the direction of the public prosecutor. In some cases, the public prosecutor personally investigates cases. The preliminary investigation may involve inquiries, examination of witnesses, identification of suspects, confrontations, sequestrations, telephone and mail intercepts, and other similar procedures.
After an investigation is completed, the public prosecutor can:
- determine there is not enough evidence to support the charge/s; in this case the public prosecutor will ask the judge in charge of the case at this stage (Giudice delle Indagini Preliminari) to dismiss the case. The public prosecutor must inform the crime victim of this intention to apply for dismissal of the case, only if the crime victim requests to be informed. The victim may then file an opposing brief with the judge indicating why further investigations should be performed. If the judge deems that the charges are well-founded, the judge orders the public prosecutor to carry out further investigations or to file formal criminal charges against the suspect. If the victim fails to indicate why further investigations should be performed or the judge deems there is not enough evidence to support the charge/s, the case is definitively closed; or
- determine there is sufficient evidence to support the charge/s; in this case the public prosecutor must notify the suspect, the defense counsel and the crime victim that the investigation is closed and asks the judge (Giudice dell’Udienza Preliminare) to send the case to trial specifying the charges against the accused (richiesta di rinvio a giudizio). The judge then sets a hearing date (udienza preliminare) in which the accused can defend himself/herself. At the hearing, the judge can decide to close the case without proceeding to a trial or order the case go to trial (rinvio a giudizio).
If the charges are not dropped, the case proceeds to the trial phase (dibattimento). A series of hearings take place. Preliminary issues are verified. At this stage, the public prosecutor and the defense make their cases by presenting their evidence and then the debate begins.
It is advisable for a victim to appear personally at the first hearing. The judge may decide to refund travel expenses for a victim in order to guarantee his/her presence at a particular hearing, but only if special circumstances warrant it. Business attire is required for those attending courtroom proceedings. Participants should rise when the presiding judge enters the courtroom.
Once both the public prosecutor and defense attorneys have argued their cases, the judge issues a verdict. If the suspect is found guilty, the sentencing takes place immediately. The length of criminal proceedings in Italy varies depending on the type of crime, the nature of the evidence, and the legal motions filed by all parties.
A verdict can be appealed before the Court of Appeals (Corte D’Appello) and then before the Supreme Court (Corte di Cassazione). The average length of proceedings before courts of appeals is generally two years. Courts of appeals review the lower court’s decision and can rule on questions of both law and fact. Victims are not expected to testify again. Appeals before the Supreme Court are heard only on questions of law; the facts established in any previous court’s rulings are not challenged. The average length of proceedings before the Supreme Court is approximately one year.
General information on arrests, investigations and the pretrial and trial phase of a criminal proceeding is also available at the Arrest of a U.S. Citizen webpage on this website.
You may want to consider hiring a local attorney to secure appropriate legal guidance. Local legal procedures differ from those in the United States. Although the public prosecutor is responsible for prosecuting your case, an attorney you hire can promote your interests with the police and the court and assist you through the Italian criminal proceedings and any civil compensation proceedings. While our office cannot recommend specific attorneys, we can provide you with a list of attorneys who have expressed interest in representing U.S. citizens. This list is available on the Internet at: English Speaking Attorneys.
Victim Compensation in Italy:
Italy has a program which provides financial compensation for victims of terrorism, organized crime, and hit and run drivers. Italy does not have a program for compensating victims of other violent or personal crimes.
Victims of terrorism or organized crime in Italy must have reported the crime to the local Prefect’s (Prefettura) office where the crime occurred, providing the date, location, injuries, and losses resulting from the crime. (The Prefect is the local representative for the Ministry of Interior.) To be eligible for this program, a victim of terrorism or organized crime must file the application for compensation within 3 months after the last judicial decision in the case.
Victims of hit and run drivers can apply for compensation only if the responsible vehicle cannot be identified, if the responsible driver is not covered by car insurance, or if the car insurance company went bankrupt. Generally, the application for compensation must be filed within two years of the accident’s occurrence, however, there are cases in which the statute of limitations can be longer. American citizens should consult an attorney licensed to practice in Italy to clarify time limits for a specific legal action. If the accident resulted in death, generally the application for financial compensation may be filed within ten years of the accident’s occurrence. Victims of hit and run drivers and their families may seek assistance by reaching out to an Italian non-governmental organization (NGO) called Associazione Italiana Familiari e Vittime della Strada (AIFVS), “Association of Italian Family Members and Victims of Hit and Run Drivers”. AIFVS provides legal and psychological assistance through a network of professionals associated with the NGO. AIFVS’ headquarters is located on Via Achille Tedeschi 82, 00157 Rome; Tel. 0641734624, fax 06233216163, Cell. 340 9168405. However, there are several offices located throughout Italy. Please visit http://www.vittimestrada.org/ for more detailed information.
Victims of crime may be entitled to claim civil damages during a criminal trial against an alleged offender. The Italian Code of Criminal Procedures authorizes the initiation of a civil action for compensation and damages for victims who have suffered harm. An attorney licensed to practice law in Italy can provide further information to crime victims on the Italian Code of Criminal Procedures and other Italian laws.
Embassy and Consulate Locations:
Americans living or traveling in Italy are encouraged to sign up with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate General through the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Italy. Americans without Internet access may enroll directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate General. By enrolling, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located at Via Vittorio Veneto 121, Rome, Tel. 39-06-46741, Fax 39-06-4674-2244, website http://italy.usembassy.gov/acs.html. Consulates General are located at: Via Principe Amedeo 2/10, Milan, Tel. 39-02-290-351; Lungarno A. Vespucci 38, Florence, Tel. 39-055-266-951; and Piazza della Repubblica, Naples, Tel. 39-081-583-8111.
Special Information for Cases of Sexual Assault and Rape:
Physical evidence is very important in sexual assault cases, and can deteriorate as time passes. As such, victims should not change clothes, avoid bathing if possible, and have a physical exam at the first opportunity. You should take these steps even if you are unsure about whether to report the crime to police. If you decide to pursue a prosecution at a later time, these steps preserve evidence that will assist the prosecutor. A consular officer or after-hours duty officer from the U.S. Embassy or nearest U.S. Consulate General may be able to accompany victims of sexual assault for the medical exam.
According to Italian law, the definitions of sexual assault and rape overlap and do not differ from region to region. Italian law regards all forms of sexual assault, including date rape, spousal rape, and rape of males, as serious violent crimes. Rape/sexual assault is defined as the act of forcing someone to perform or experience sexual acts by using violence, under threat of injury, or by abusing her/his authority, and is punishable with imprisonment from 5 to 10 years.
You should get medical attention to determine if you have been injured in any way and to discuss treatment and prevention options for pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Emergency contraception, in the form of the ‘morning-after’ pill, is available at all public hospitals in Italy or through any private gynecologist. HIV prophylaxis is also available in Italy. The victim can be accompanied to the hospital by a support person. Emergency medical and forensic exams are paid for by the government of Italy.
If the victim reports the sexual assault or rape to emergency room doctors, they are able to begin collecting forensic evidence. Forensic collection for sexual assault normally involves a pelvic exam, vaginal/penile/anal swabs, head and pubic hair samples, fingernail scrapings, blood samples, and saliva samples. Victims can file rape/sexual assault charges (within six months of the crime’s occurrence) without a medical exam; however, without forensic evidence the case will be more difficult to prosecute.
A list of local English-speaking doctors can be found at: English Speaking Doctors in Italy
When medical exams and forensic collection are complete, you should file a police report at the local police station. In larger Italian cities, some police stations are staffed with translators as well as police officers trained in working with victims of violent crime. In addition to police investigators, you should also expect to be interviewed by the public prosecutor who will lead the investigation and ultimately bring the case to court.
Rape hotlines are available at the following websites:
Operators do not necessarily speak English.
Special Information for Cases of Domestic Violence:
Domestic violence is considered a crime in Italy. If domestic violence occurs, the victim should notify local law enforcement authorities, file a police report, and seek medical attention at the nearest public hospital. A protective/restraining order against the perpetrator can be issued by a local judge. If the perpetrator violates the judge’s restraining order, the victim should call the police to intervene. Domestic violence shelters are available throughout Italy and are considered secure. The number of beds and rooms offered may vary from shelter to shelter. To be admitted to a shelter, the victim has to be evaluated by shelter staff. Depending on the circumstances, victims may be accepted on a walk-in basis. At most shelters, children are also admitted.
Although some operators may speak English, it is not the general rule.
Victims can contact the following domestic violence websites for more information.
Special Information for Cases of Child Abuse:
According to Italian law, any citizen who becomes aware of or suspects child abuse is required to notify law enforcement authorities. This is especially true for all professions where caregivers are in frequent direct contact with children (for example, teachers, social workers, doctors, etc.) The Juvenile Court is responsible for the protection of minors. The public prosecutor’s office of the Juvenile Court investigates allegations of child abuse.
A child, including an American child present in Italy, can be removed from his or her home based on a judicial order from the local Juvenile Court. The Juvenile Court judge has authority to give custody of the child to local social services or to place the child in a foster home. Foster homes, social services, psychologists, and child protective associations (e.g. Telefono Azzurro) are experienced in helping child victims. Large public hospitals in Italy’s major cities have appropriate resources to perform medical examinations to establish whether a child has been physically or sexually abused.
If a case of child abuse goes to trial, the child can, under certain circumstances, be asked to testify against his or her abuser. In such cases, the child will be prepared and assisted by social services and psychologists. The court will also make special accommodations for the child in order to minimize the trauma of testifying.
General information and other useful links for victims of crime are available at the Department of State’s Help for American Victims of Crime Overseas webpage.
For information about crime victim compensation programs in the U.S., please see the National Association of Crime Victim Compensation Board (www.nacvcb.org) website.