Silvio Berlusconi will stand trial on April 6, charged with sex with an underage prostitute and abuse of power. He's still claiming he's innocent — and, somewhat bizarrely, the comparisons to Julian Assange have begun.
Prosecutors wanted Berlusconi tried immediately, but they'll still have to wait a few months until he goes before a panel of three female judges. If convicted, he could face 15 years in prison — three for the prostitution charge, and twelve for abusing his power by falsely claiming that Karima el-Mahroug (aka Ruby Heartstealer) was Hosni Mubarak's granddaughter in order to get her out of a theft charge. And, says Delia Lloyd of Politics Daily, "there is a sense that Italy has finally had enough" of Berlusconi's antics. Protests on Sunday again called for the Prime Minister's ouster, with the slogan, "If not now, when?" Berlusconi dismisses the calls for his resignation with the argument that, you know, he totally loves women:
Every woman that has had the opportunity to know me knows my regard for them: I have always behaved with the greatest attention and respect towards them. I have always made it so that every woman feels, how should I say, special.
Touching. However Berlusconi fares at his trial, his current scandal has captivated the international media even more than usual, and both analysis and mockery abound. Lloyd provides the former, comparing Berlusconi to both Bill Clinton and Julian Assange, and argues that in all three cases, what the public really cares about are the salacious sexual details. Regarding Berlusconi, she says, "even though it is the abuse-of-office charge that carries the much steeper sentence (up to 12 years vs. up to three for paying for sex with a minor), it is sexual offense — coming on the heels of several other recent disclosures — that has attracted the ire of the Italian public, and Italian women in particular." And, she adds,
The Assange and Berlusconi cases hinge on whether each committed a criminal offense. But we already know way more about their sex lives than we possibly could have imagined back in the days when "Julian Assange" was just a weird, secretive computer hacker who seemed to have wandered off the film set of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo."
And that's just how we — as a public — want it.
Certainly it's true that none of these cases would have achieved quite the notoriety they did without their sexual elements, but I'd disagree with Lloyd's assertion that these elements are necessarily what everybody cares about most. First of all, Assange is accused of rape, setting him apart from both Berlusconi and Clinton. And in the case of the Italian PM (really, in Clinton's case too, but that's another post) the abuse of power really matters. Berlusconi isn't just accused of having sex with an underage girl (though in fact the age of consent in Italy is 14, meaning el-Mahroug would have been legal if she wasn't paid) — he's accused of using his office to make said girl's criminal charges go away. And in general, Italians fear he's created a direct pipeline from his parties (and possibly his bed) to positions in government — writes Lloyd, "the current scandal highlights a troubling message: the way for a woman to get ahead in Italy is to sell her soul, if not her body, to powerful men." This isn't about sexy Santa outfits or bunga bunga or Putin's bed. It's about a leader who may be using sex as a precondition for political power — and while that may be salacious, it's also deeply unfair.
Berlusconi To Stand Trial On Sex, Abuse Of Office Charges [Politics Daily]
Silvio Berlusconi Faces Ruby Sex Charge Trial In April [BBC]
Berlusconi To Stand Trial In Teen Sex Case [MSNBC]
Assange, Berlusconi And The Sex Lives Of Others [Politics Daily]