ROME — Italian authorities are investigating accusations by two US women studying abroad in Florence, including one from Maine, that they were raped Thursday by two uniformed members of Italy’s Carabinieri police force, and Italy’s defense minister said there appeared to be “some basis” to the allegations.
The accusations have generated considerable coverage in the country’s news media and have shaken Florence’s large community of people involved in study-abroad programs.
“Rape is always a serious matter,” Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti said Friday at a conference on women’s issues. “But it’s of unprecedented seriousness if it is committed by Carabinieri in uniform.”
The Carabinieri is a paramilitary police force that operates under the control of the Defense Ministry.
The two women — 19 and 21, according to local news media reports — have accused the two police officers of raping them in the entrance and elevator of their apartment building in the center of Florence before dawn Thursday. The officers, who are reportedly in their 30s, have denied the allegations and have not been charged.
The Associated Press reported that the Carabinieri has suspended on a precautionary basis the two men accused. The Carabinieri provincial office stressed the suspension reflects alleged conduct while on duty and is separate from Florence prosecutors’ criminal investigation of the alleged rapes.
The officers had responded to a call at a club, Flo, where a brawl had broken out and apparently met the women there, according to Italian officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss details of the investigation.
The Florence police said the club’s cameras showed the women leaving with two officers. The women told prosecutors that they were intoxicated and had smoked marijuana that evening, according to Italian news media reports, and that the officers accompanied them to their apartment in a service vehicle.
The women live in Borgo Santi Apostoli, in the historic center of the city.
Prosecutors in Florence are investigating the accusations and have taken statements from the two women, who, according to Italian news media reports, are from Maine and New Jersey, and are studying at Lorenzo de’ Medici — The Italian International Institute. The Italian authorities have collected potential evidence, including the women’s clothes, and the women underwent medical examinations and DNA tests at a Florence hospital.
Florence is Italy’s center for study-abroad programs and is a popular destination for US students. Many leading US universities operate programs in the city and house students in villas there.
The allegations have dominated news coverage throughout Italy, with articles about them at the top of the country’s newspapers and news websites. On Saturday, the website of Italy’s largest newspaper, Corriere della Sera, featured a video with illustrations depicting the night’s events set to haunting piano music.
“If this is true, and I hope that light is shed on the matter as soon as possible, then it would be an act of unheard-of gravity,” General Tullio Del Sette, the commander of the Carabinieri, told the ANSA news agency.