Paolina's Innocence: Child Abuse in Casanova's Venice

Paolina's Innocence: Child Abuse in Casanova's Venice

Paolina's Innocence: Child Abuse in Casanova's Venice

Paolina's Innocence: Child Abuse in Casanova's Venice

Synopsis

In the summer of 1785, in the city of Venice, a wealthy 60-year-old man was arrested and accused of a scandalous offense: having sexual relations with the 8-year-old daughter of an impoverished laundress. Although the sexual abuse of children was probably not uncommon in early modern Europe, it is largely undocumented, and the concept of "child abuse" did not yet exist. The case of Paolina Lozaro and Gaetano Franceschini came before Venice's unusual blasphemy tribunal, the Bestemmia, which heard testimony from an entire neighborhood-from the parish priest to the madam of the local brothel.

Paolina's Innocence considers Franceschini's conduct in the context of the libertinism of Casanova and also employs other prominent contemporaries-Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Carlo Goldoni, Lorenzo Da Ponte, Cesare Beccaria, and the Marquis de Sade-as points of reference for understanding the case and broader issues of libertinism, sexual crime, childhood, and child abuse in the 18th century.

Excerpt

In the summer of 1785 a Venetian tribunal initiated the criminal investigation of a sixty-year-old man who had been accused of having sexual contact with an eight-year-old girl. In the eighteenth century there was no clear clinical or sociological concept of “child sexual abuse,” as we understand it today, and the judicial investigation of this particular case kept growing in scope as the court attempted to determine what exactly had happened to the child, Paolina Lozaro, during a single night in the apartment, and the bed, of Gaetano Franceschini. She was the daughter of a poor laundress from the immigrant Friulian community in Venice; he came from a wealthy family of silk manufacturers in Vicenza. The details of the case were difficult to discover, and even more difficult to prove, for the child herself barely understood what had happened to her, but even the contested facts of the case were complicated by controversial cultural questions. The tribunal had to decide whether, and in what sense, the girl had actually been harmed; whether, and in what sense, the man’s actions were criminal; and, if so, how he should be punished. There were no simple and straightforward answers to these questions in the eighteenth century. The case began with a singlepage secret denunciation to the law, composed by a neighborhood priest . . .

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