Important social changes that began taking place in Italy after World War II gained momentum with the economic boom of the 1960s. Rigid family relationships were modified as young people sought a more visible role in society and women called for greater freedom. But progress towards this new cultural revolution in some regions, especially in southern Italy, was slow as inroads into deeply ingrained customs and beliefs were strongly resisted.
One such custom, the fuitina, a Sicilian word for ‘elopement' that is now part of the Italian language, had long been practiced in the South. A very young couple, often minors, would run away from home for a day or so without telling anyone where they were going, thus presenting their union as a fait accompli. The only alternative for saving the girl's reputation was that the couple enter a matrimonio riparatore (‘rehabilitating marriage'). Some poorer families who could not afford dowries for their daughters actively encouraged the fuitina.
Until fairly recently, however, there was a much darker side to this picture. It was not rare for the girl to be the unwilling victim in this practice. Her suitor, frequently an unwanted admirer or a man she had already rejected, would kidnap and rape her and then rely on the matrimonio riparatore to protect him from being convicted of either kidnapping or rape. This was possible because, under Article 544 of the Criminal Code, which was not repealed until 198, sexual violence was considered an offence against morals and not against the person. An accusation of sexual violence, even against a minor, would lapse if the perpetrator married his victim. To make matters worse, any girl who had suffered the humiliation of losing her virginity in this way either submitted to this kind of marriage to save her honour and that of her family or risked remaining an old maid and forever being labelled una donna svergognata (‘a shameless hussy'). In other words, socially and psychologically, she was the one to blame for the violence she had suffered.