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Abstract

Since I disapproved of stereotypes, I found myself trying to comprehend Italian-American culture after I became executive director of the largest shelter in Rhode Island for battered women and their children. Many of those I met were fleeing Italian-American men. On 60 Minutes, Lesley Stahl reported from Italy about the large number of single men who still live with their parents and are known as mammoni, or “mama’s boys.” Their mothers dutifully cook and clean for them. The Roman Catholic Church’s view of the Holy Family reinforces mammoni culture. I learned that Rome’s founding legend starts with men colluding to commit violence against women. The Italian Renaissance graphically celebrates this “Rape of the Sabine Women” in sculpture and paintings. A story in Boccaccio’s Decameron and Botticelli’s paintings of men hunting and slaying women reinforce this cultural algorithm of sexual harassment and abuse. Leoncavallo’s opera Pagliacci portrays domestic violence as art. The coercive control that many battered mothers encounter at home feels identical to that at family court. I describe specific Italian-American cases, including professional abuses in the court, where guardians ad litem often orchestrate custody cases unethically. Though the Rhode Island Supreme Court’s Ethics Advisory Panel has recognized this problem in theory, judges fail to confront it in fact. We can and must challenge abusive behavior entrenched in our cultures. We can and must create a culture of law that insists upon the ethical use of power in our custody courts.

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Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.