- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 22, 2004

ROME — The military is investigating charges that a female noncommissioned officer physically attacked a young male recruit, setting back claims that the introduction of women into the Italian military had helped eradicate a notorious culture of hazing.

The NCO and the victim both are members of the elite Folgore (Lightning) parachute regiment, which distinguished itself against overwhelming British forces in the World War II battle of El Alamein in North Africa.

Published reports said the recruit had asked permission from a male NCO, identified only as Cpl. Maj. Francesco V., to telephone home from an office line at their regimental base near the Tuscan city of Siena.

In response, the NCO ordered the recruit to lie on the tarmac and begin pumping energetic push-ups until further orders — standard practice in a regiment known for its macho style of leadership, according to Rome’s Il Messaggero newspaper.

The atmosphere reportedly degenerated when Cpl. Maj. Roberta S., described as a 24-year-old petite, muscular blonde with short-cropped hair, appeared on the scene.

The young private claims the female NCO kicked him viciously twice in the ribs. The terrified paratrooper collapsed and was taken to a hospital, where he was treated for bruises and cuts.

Both the recruit and his commanding officer filed complaints and the two NCOs were formally charged with violence and injuring a subordinate. An army prosecutor at a military court at the port of La Spezia is preparing a formal request for their indictment.

The case has dealt a blow to assertions by military officials earlier this year that they had all but eradicated a culture of hazing known in Italy “nonnismo,” or “grandfatherism,” which has been blamed for a series of suicides among young recruits over the past 20 years.

Credit for the change was given to the phasing out of military conscription, its replacement with an almost entirely professional army for the first time in Italy’s post-war history, and the recent admission of women to the forces.

Only a few months ago, the procurator general in Italy’s military appeal court, Judge Vindicio Bonagura, asserted that hazing “appears at the moment to be practically nonexistent.”

He cited statistics showing that in the first eight months of 2003, only 40 cases of bullying had come to the attention of the military courts. That contrasted with an average number of 300 hazing convictions per year between 1999 to 2002, Il Messaggero quoted him as saying.

“It was unprecedented for the armed forces, at the incident in Siena, that the author of the violence was a woman corporal,” the Rome daily added, describing the affair as a personal setback for Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s equal opportunities minister, Stefania Prestigiacomo.

The minister had recently said that “the entry of a feminine component in the barracks should contribute to a reduction in the number of cases of nonnismo.”

The left-leaning La Repubblica reported that the female NCO, a veteran of several foreign peace-keeping missions since she joined the paratroopers two years ago, had denied the charges against her, as had her male counterpart.

However, investigators described the complaints of the young recruit as credible, La Repubblica quoted judicial sources as saying.

“Even if this is the first time we have registered involvement by a woman, such cases unfortunately are nothing new,” La Repubblica quoted one military investigator as saying.

“The advent of a wholly professional army appears to have changed very little.”

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