Stories of Pain and Hope: Victims of Mafias in Europe and Around the World

Stories of Pain and Hope: Victims of Mafias in Europe and Around the World

Giulio Vasaturo (“Sapienza” University of Rome, Italy)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1286-9.ch009
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In this chapter, the subject of mafia violence will be investigated from the victims' perspective. It will also focus on best practices and the national regulations by which government authorities and the civil society at large attempt to assist, support, and offer rehabilitation and resilience to the victims of mafias in Latin America, Central America, Asia, Russia, Africa, and Europe.
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Across the world, stories of mafias are also stories of death. After the massacres perpetrated by the most ferocious criminal organizations, all that remains is the endless pain of the relatives, colleagues, and friends of those killed. In the eyes of the mafias, acts of homicide are meant to wipe out an enemy of their criminal organization and to force those who dare to oppose them into silence.

Giovanni Falcone, the heroic judge responsible for convicting the main boss of the Cosa Nostra in Italy, described the following fundamental characteristic of the mafia underworld: “the more bloody, ruthless, and cruel the execution appears in the eyes of ordinary citizens, the more pride the ‘man of honor’ will derive from it and the more his value will be esteemed within the organization” (Falcone & Padovani, 2017).

Within this context, the principal witnesses to the horrors of the mafias and corrupt powers are the victims’ relatives. In recent years, their contribution has proved decisive in awakening the sentiments of the international public and individual governments in the fight against organized crime. In fact, it is clear that victims of crime have remained virtually invisible until recent times when they have been recognized as a distinct social category in their own right, and the first coordinated responses have been formulated to address their demands (Del Re & Shekhawat, 2018).

In criminological literature, this new perspective on awareness has shifted the very concept of victimhood.

As Jan van Dijk recently noted, over the past five decades, ongoing secularization has incrementally allowed those harmed by crime to resist their labeling as victims with its adverse, incapacitating role and expectations of meekness. Increasingly, victims reject being called ‘victims,’ requesting to be called ‘survivors’ or ‘harmed parties’ instead (van Dijk, 2019).

In this context, the “Libera Memory” project, fostered by the Libera Association, a social organization founded by Italian priest Luigi Ciotti, has proved to be a formidable tool in expressing the pain, hopes, and shared expectations of justice and truth in an open and international context.

It is recognized that organized crime and the mafia are neither synonymous terms, nor completely opposite concepts. Since the year 2000, the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime has provided an internationally recognized definition of an organized criminal group as a group of three or more persons existing over a period of time acting in concert with the aim of committing crimes for financial or material benefit. This definition was also adopted in the EU’s Council Framework Decision 2008/841/JHA of October 24, 2008 in the fight against organized crime, and continues to reflect law enforcement authorities’ conceptualization of organized crime across the world. However, this definition does not adequately describe the complex and flexible nature of modern organized crime networks. A mafia group, more specifically, is a type of organized crime group that attempts to control the supply of protection and shares a common set of rituals and rules. As of today, Klaus von Lampe has collected another two hundred definitions of “organized crime,” obtained from papers of the leading global scholars in criminology (von Lampe, 2019).

While recognizing the complexity and diversity of criminal phenomena throughout the world, the concept of “mafia” will be applied, in this study, to all criminal groups, wherever named locally, that employ intimidation, subjugation, and codes of silence through the use of actual or threatened violence, corrupt public officials, graft, or extortion, and generally have a significant impact on the people in their locales, region, or the country as a whole.

The same structures of support and assistance for victims of crime can be practically extended to all those who suffer the violent activity of criminal organizations, specifically named mafias, or authoritarian or corrupt regimes.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Mafia: A criminal group, wherever named locally, that employ intimidation, subjugation, and codes of silence through the use of actual or threatened violence, corrupt public officials, graft, or extortion.

Guanxi: (In China) The system of social networks and influential relationships wich facilitate business and other dealings.

Cosa Nostra: An historical mafia organization founded in Sicily, an island in the south of Italy, strongly rooted also in America.

Desaparecidos: (Typically in South America) Persons whose have disappeared, presumed killed by organized crime or members of armed services.

Triad: A secret society originating in China, typically involved in organized crime.

Victimology: The study of the victims of crime and the psychological effects of their experience.

Vory-v-zakone: (In Russia) Also called “thieves in law”, is a society of criminals comparable to more famous secret fraternities.

‘Ndrangheta: A mafia organization originating and operating chiefly in Calabria, a region in southern Italy, with screenings all over the world.

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