The past two weeks I have been following events unfolding in Italy concerning Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. There is reportedly evidence that he paid for sex with a young woman named Karima el Mahroug when she was under 18 years of age, and even phoned a police station to release her when she was being held there for allegations of theft. His trial is in April. Thousands of women have taken to the streets in protest, urging Berlusconi to step down.
Why so much outrage? Perhaps because this is not the first time the Prime Minister has demonstrated his lack of respect for women. In addition to having sex parties at his villa, in 2009, after a series of rape cases in Italy, Berlusconi stated that the country’s women are so beautiful that they needed escorts to avoid being raped. Beauty, in his opinion, was the cause for the increased levels of rape. In an attempt to redeem himself, he stated later that his comments should be received with levity and good humour.
It scares me that there are leaders in our world who set such poor examples of what it means to respect women. Sudan’s Bashir was quoted as saying that Darfurian women should be honoured if a man from northern Sudan rapes them. If leaders of nations have such attitudes toward women, how is it possible to pass laws that protect victims of human trafficking, sexual violence, and domestic abuse?
I believe that those who are in positions of leadership have a responsibility to set a good example. Cheating on his wife is one thing. Making insensitive comments about rape and breaking the law by paying for sex with a teenager take it to a whole other level. If Berlusconi is indeed found guilty, it is time for him to wave goodbye to the Prime Minister’s office. May this be a reminder for all of us to elect leaders with integrity.