From my earliest trips through my years of living here in Italy, I’ve never experienced a moment of feeling unsafe. I once rode the wrong bus in Rome to an outer, densely packed and squalid area; I have wandered country roads at night, and stumbled my way through a decidedly sketchy part of Naples, but never felt I was in danger. That’s because Italy as a whole has a fairly low crime rate and little violent crime in general. The majority of crime is of the petty variety, a hassle to be sure, but not life-endangering. Kidnappings are rare, as are gang-related crimes and drug violence.
Petty Crime in Italy
There are certainly pick-pockets, thefts, and opportunistic purse-snatchings, especially in the larger cities and most particularly where tourists are gathered and focused on the sights rather than their surroundings. There are petty scams, like a bait-and-switch of items, or counterfeit designer bags and clothes. Bars in tourist areas may serve bottom-shelf booze in top-shelf bottles (with the higher prices, of course). Some vendors do a “fast count,” giving you the incorrect change when you paid cash.
Purses slung across the back of a chair at an outdoor café may go missing without you realizing it until it’s too late.
Home break-ins do occur, usually when folks are at work or out for an evening. Vacation homes can be targeted when thieves realize the house is unoccupied for periods of time. Make sure you get to know your neighbors, who will keep an eye on things. If you have a country house, you may want an alarm system that alerts the local Carabinieri when it’s activated, especially if you don’t live there year-round.
Violent Crime in Italy
Italy sees few muggings, and never with a weapon. According to the national statistics agency, in 2019 Italy had 315 homicides, that’s the same for an average American city. In stats terms, it came out to 0.53 per 100,000 people. (By contrast, in Chicago it was 18.26 per 100,000, while Dallas was 14.89, Savannah was 16.61, Detroit was 41.45 and St. Louis was 64.54 per 100,000 people for the same year.)
Sexual assault occurs, with 5,018 cases reported in 2019 (or 7.6 per 100,000 people). The primary regions were Lombardy, Emilia Romagna, and Lazio, according to ISTAT; it is reported most commonly in the cities of Milan, Bologna, Florence, and Rome. (In 2019 in the U.S., the rate was 27.3 per 100,000 people.)
Areas to Avoid in Italy
There are few places in Italy that you have to consciously avoid; while any city will have districts that are more unsavory than others, as a visitor or expat, you’re unlikely to find yourself there. The city centers, leafy suburbs, small towns, and countryside are generally safe and secure. You need to be aware of your surroundings and take the normal caution, and security measures that you would anywhere.
The mafia does operate in several places but are generally unconcerned with the average citizen, especially foreigners, and do not present a threat, on the whole. They tend to target business interests and specific individuals or companies. They’ve focused in recent years on corruption and white-collar crime, which is more lucrative.
Nightlife Safety in Italy
There are loads of clubs, beach discos, and street parties, and it is safe to join in and enjoy an evening of fun and dancing. Some places may be wilder than others, but exercise normal caution—keep an eye on your drinks, have a buddy, and alert security or personnel if you experience any type of harassment or threatening behavior. Generally, Italians are out for a good, sociable time, and not so much to get roaring drunk. Even so, some drugs and spiked drinks may be present, so keep your wits about you, and your eyes open. Don’t leave with strangers, don’t accept drinks that aren’t handed to you by the bartender or waiter directly, exercise the usual vigilance you would in this type of setting.
Transport Crime in Italy
Crowded buses, trains, and subways can be prime targets for pickpockets. My mother had her wallet stolen from her purse on the Rome subway, and a cousin had her iPhone lifted from her pocket, also on the subway. Pickpockets are often highly skillful, lifting it out of a pocket or purse on a bus without you feeling a thing. Luggage may be grabbed from trains or stations. Very occasionally a car may be broken into for bags or luggage that have been left inside. The advice is to stay aware of the people around you, and keep your belongings close and secure, as you would in any city.
Women’s Safety in Italy
As a whole, the situation is on par with anywhere else, though rates of sexual violence are lower in Italy than in the U.S. Generally, bystanders will intervene if they see or hear something offensive or potentially dangerous; Italians tend to be quite vigilant in that regard. Nonetheless, stay attentive to the situations, don’t walk around alone at 2 a.m., and go out with a friend when possible. If you have to be out at night without a buddy, call a taxi to get home safely.
LGBTQ Safety in Italy
Same-sex civil unions were legalized in 2016, gay people serve in the military, and Italy was the third nation to recognize one’s right to change gender, back in 1982. Same-sex activity was legalized in 1890. Gay rights groups and public campaigns have raised awareness and tolerance, and more pride marches are organized every year, even in smaller provincial cities. Data shows public opinion has continually grown more positive in the past decade.
Italians are generally accepting and friendly and welcoming. There are some instances of anti-gay sentiment, and there have been a few violent episodes, but those are not widespread. Especially gay-friendly cities include Milan, Bologna, Rome, Naples, and Bari, though many smaller cities are accepting and tolerant, as well. Puglia has a robust gay scene, especially Bari and Gallipoli. As with anything, stay aware of the situation and surroundings and call the authorities if you encounter threatening or potentially dangerous behavior. Gay rights groups will assist and intervene in the event of discrimination.
General Tips in Italy
Italy tends to be safe overall, but crime does happen here as it does everywhere. According to statistics —the majority of crime is in the northern cities. The leading cities for crime are Milan, Florence, Rimini, Genoa, Turin, Rome, Naples, and Catania.
Italy is a safe place to live and to visit. Tourists should keep their belongings secure and stay aware of those around them on public transportation. Visitors and residents alike should maintain normal precautions that you would at home. Small towns are very safe; at least in my area, many Italian residents often leave keys dangling from their doors during the day, neighbors keep an eye on things and look out for each other. While we may be pick-pocketed in a city, we don’t have to fear for our safety or worry about violent crime.
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