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    Giulia Tofana – Serial killer or Heroine?!

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    Giulia Tofana – Serial killer or Heroine?!


    I recently stumbled upon the story on Giulia Tofana – an Italian woman living in 17th century Italy and wanted to share it with you. Life for Italian women in the 17th century was extremely difficult and if you happened to be in an abusive marriage, it was even more so. You had no option but to remain there unless you literally wanted to live on the streets. That is until Giulia Tofana came along!

    Loathed by men and loved by abused women, Giulia Tofana may be one of the most deadly serial killers ever and chances are you won’t have heard of her! Giulia regularly helped abused women ‘get rid of the problem’ of their husbands by masterminding a covert operation disguised as a legal cosmetics business.

    Giulia Tofana - Serial killer or Heroine?! 1

    Giulia was born in Sicily in 1620, and had a modest but relatively happy childhood. That was until she was 13 years old when her mother was executed for murdering her husband – Giulia’s father. Things then took a very dark turn for Giulia.

    It is thought that Giulia was taught how to make poison by either her mother, or a family friend. For nearly 20 years, she made bottles of poison which was a combination of arsenic, deadly nightshade and lead. She called it Aqua Tofana and it was bottled to look like face cream and was packaged with a picture of St Nicholas – who was the patron saint of children and unmarried people. St Nicholas was famous for helping young women and girls escape what we now call sex traffickers.

    The lethal ingredients would apparently cause cold-like symptoms before the unlucky victim dropped dead several days later. The poison was completely undetectable, which meant that women could seemingly commit the perfect crime by killing their abusive husbands and getting away with it, leaving them to be free from the abuse.

    In 1630s Italy, men were given free rein and unlimited power and control where domestic abuse and rape were concerned and they would more often than not go unpunished for these crimes. Women had no social, economic or political power whatsoever.

    Giulia Tofana - Serial killer or Heroine?! 2

    As a result, hundreds of thousands of women were trapped in abusive and violent marriages, with no means of escape. Divorce was practically unheard of. There only way of escaping was to become a widow!

    Historian Mike Dash described Giulia Tofana as a “severe challenge” to a “world where men ruled as petty tyrants over their own families”. He wrote that “even the most aristocratic of daughters were chattels to be auctioned off into often loveless marriages”.

    The currency was ‘trust’! and Giulia only took her clients through previous ‘happy’ customers. None of her customers would report Giulia as they themselves would then be found out! It is thought that Giulia murdered around 600 men.

    It is not clear what happened to Giulia. Some say she was sold out when a woman who had bought the poison and had added it to her husband’s soup, panicked at the last moment and confessed to her husband what she had done and where she had got the poison from.

    One account is that Giulia fled to a convent where she took sanctuary and continued to make her poison. Another account claims she was caught and tortured for her crimes in Rome. Other historians state that Giulia died in 1651 with no one being aware of her murders or her poison.

    Some say that Aqua Tofana stayed in circulation for years, putting fear into any abusive man who abused his wife. Apparently one of these men was the musician Wolfgang Mozart, who became convinced a short time before his death that his wife had poisoned him with Aqua Tofana.

    I guess we will never really know what happened to her or whether the whole story is true but how would you describe Giulia Tofana?? A cold, callous serial killer or a Heroine?!

    Sharon Bryan
    Head Of Partnerships & Development Of Domestic Abuse Services

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    By Fiona Bawden, Times Online (8th May 2007)

    “Steve Connor, a student at City Law School, is a man on a mission. Six years ago he was a fairly directionless 27-year-old. Today, as well as taking the Bar Vocational Course, he is chairman of the National Centre for Domestic Violence, a ground-breaking organisation that he dragged into existence after a friend could not get legal help to protect her from an abusive partner.

    Connor’s route to the Bar has been circuitous. In 2001 he returned from a year in Australia (he says that he would not dignify describing it as a gap year), and took a job as a process server in South London. The job (“I just saw it advertised in the paper”) was not quite as dull as it sounds. On one occasion he was threatened with a machete, on another, he was nearly stabbed by a man he had arranged to meet on Clapham Common to serve with a non-molestation order: “He’d seemed really friendly on the phone…”

    The turning point in his life came when a friend, who was being abused by her partner, turned to him for support. Connor went with her to the police. She did not want to press criminal charges so the police suggested that she visit a solicitor to take out a civil injunction. “We must have seen 12 solicitors in a morning. We just went from one to the next to the next to the next. Everyone was very eager to help until we sat down to fill in the forms for the legal aid means test,” he says. The woman, who had a small child, did not qualify for public funding. But, Connor says, her financial situation as it appeared on paper did not bear any relation to her financial situation in reality. “She had a part-time job and she and her partner owned their home. Yet she didn’t have any money. Her boyfriend was very controlling and controlled all the money; he kept the chequebooks and didn’t let her have access to the bank account.”

    The injustice of the situation got under Connor’s skin. “I just couldn’t believe that there was no help available to people who did not qualify for public funds but could not afford to pay.

    I just kept feeling that this must be able to be sorted if only someone would address it.”That “someone” turned out to be him.

    In 2002, thanks entirely to Connor’s doggedness, the London Centre for Domestic Violence was formed. It started out with him and a friend, but is now a national organisation, covering 27 counties, and has helped approximately 10,000 victims last year to take out injunctions against their partners.

    NCDV now has nine full-time staff, 12 permanent volunteers and has trained over 5000 law and other students as McKenzie Friends to accompany unrepresented victims into court. We have also trained over 8000 police officers in civil remedies available regarding domestic violence. The National Centre for Domestic Violence (NCDV) has branches in London, Guildford and Manchester and is on track to have branches in 16 areas within the next two years.

    NCDV specialises exclusively in domestic violence work and could be characterised as a cross between McDonald’s and Claims Direct. The high degree of specialisation means that its processes are streamlined: clients can be seen quickly and the work is done speedily and cheaply. “Sometimes, we will have one of our trained McKenzie Friends at a court doing 10 applications in one day,” Connor says.

    Clients are not charged for the service. NCDV staff take an initial statement: clients who qualify for legal aid are referred to a local firm; those that don’t get free help from the centre itself. It runs on a shoestring, heavily reliant on volunteers and capping staff salaries at £18,000 a year.

    Steve expects to qualify as a barrister this summer and hopes that having a formal legal qualification will give the centre added clout. “We are already acknowledged as experts and consulted at a high level, so I thought it would be helpful if I could back that up by being able to say I’m a barrister,” he says. He is just about to complete a one-year full-time BVC course at the City Law School (formerly the Inns of Court Law School) and, all being well, should be called to the Bar in July. Although Connor sees his long-term future as a barrister, he says that he has no immediate plans to practise. “I want to get NCDV running on a fully national level. Then I may take a step back and have a career at the Bar.”