28 Jan 2019

If you are a mother in Italy, depression and suicide are no excuse

Despite suspicions of mental illness, an Italian woman who killed herself and her twins was branded an “uncaring mother” by the Italian press.

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If you are a  mother in Italy, depression and suicide are no excuse  - NewsMavens
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On December 20, Giuseppina Orlando jumped in the Tiber River and was found dead later that morning. According to reports, she allegedly jumped in with her two six-month-old daughters, although witnesses did not report seeing them, and their bodies have not yet been found.

As noted by several media outlets, the woman was possibly struggling with postpartum depression after going through artificial insemination, giving premature birth to triplets (one of whom died) and dealing with serious health issues of the two surviving babies.


The case was promptly covered by the national and local press, with one particular headline -- rightfully -- sparking controversy. In an article by Brunella Bolloli, the newspaper Libero describes the event as: “Uncaring mother kills herself with her daughters”.

"Tragedy in Rome, the 38-year-old woman's body was found immediately | Uncaring mother kills herself with her daughters | The young woman jumped in the Tiber River with her two six-month-old daughters, who were born prematurely. The husband: "Look for them in the trash bins too."

The headline immediately links the murder-suicide deaths with the mother’s alleged lack of affection.

The article begins as follows:  

[The babies] were slowly recovering; at home their grandparents had set up everything for this Christmas to be special, the first one with their new grandchildren. The little girls, however, will never celebrate anything because their short life ended yesterday at dawn, swallowed up by the black hole of the depression which dragged down their mother.

The journalist builds a binary murderer/victim structure, focusing on the daughters as the sole victims of the case, demonizing their mother and using her possible depression as just an ornament to the story.

When the author finally begins to describe the Orlando's situation, she downplays her condition:

“A stress for which Pina, maybe, wasn't ready. Yet, her condition was not one of hardship: yes, it's true, the family had to move from Molise to Rome, find a new home, start a new chapter, integrate into the new neighborhood (one of the most popular) [but she] had no reason to suffer. Facebook photos depict Pina and Francesco happy on their wedding day, her smiling on the streets of Rome in summer, embracing, in love in front of the colonnade of St. Peter. There were no signs -- before the event -- of the monster that would slip into the head of this mother, who was a clerk in a notary office, apparently happily taking care of her babies, and yet becoming their executioner.

According to this reporting, Orlando was not entitled to feelings of depression because she was not from a tough background: she was not poor and had the support of her family and her Facebook pictures looked great too. The journalist overlooks any other mitigating causes of this act, concentrating on Orlando's alleged lack of maternal affection and transformation into an “executioner”.

When talking about the testimony of a witness who saw Mrs. Orlando jumping without her babies, Bolloli states "he says nothing about the newborns, maybe because this mother, who had already had enough problems and suffering, had already got rid of them."

The use of the term “got rid” suggests again the mother’s lack of love, as if she could just “throw away” her children, subtly suggesting an underlying contempt for their life. This is further highlighted at the end:

At 8 pm, police were still looking for Sara and Benedetta and who knows if it's true that the mother misled the investigation, writing her husband to look in the trash bins as if the babies were trash to bury in a landfill.

This last detail was not confirmed and yet the author discloses it -- using unverified information which further blames the mother, not just for the murder, but for intentionally misleading the investigation.

Finally, the article frequently refers to the woman as “the mother”, reducing Orlando to the last months of her life, as if what happened before wasn’t relevant.


Orlando had not seen a psychologist or a psychiatrist, nor had she been diagnosed before she committed suicide, so it’s difficult to tell whether she was suffering from an undiagnosed mental condition or postpartum depression. According to the police psychologist, hers was "a malaise which took months to grow and degenerate into suicide. [...] In the last few weeks the woman was colder and detached. An attitude typical of those who are going through a difficult time."

As regards the hypothesis of Orlando writing her husband to look for the babies in the trash bins, there is no evidence to support this assertion. Newsmavens tried to contact Bolloli and discover where she got her information, but did not receive any response. According to media reports, trash bins were just one of the many places that were searched when looking for the twins, but authorities never mentioned any message left by the woman, as confirmed to Newsmavens by Lorenzo Nicolini, a  journalist who covered the case for RomaToday.


Since the article reports true facts whose frame of reference shows negative bias towards Orlando, we rate it as biased reporting. However, this is also an example of manipulation of facts because of how Bolloli presents the search for the bodies in the trash bins in a misleading way.


Project #Femfacts co-financed by European Commission Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology as part of the Pilot Project – Media Literacy For All

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