The label “crime of passion” has haunted coverage of femicides in Albania. By resorting to this framing, journalists turn an act of violence with roots in structural misogyny into tabloid fodder often ignoring the facts for the sake of generating clicks and engagement from their readers. In doing so, as we investigate in the case of a double homicide perpetrated by an Albanian man in Italy, they resort to blaming the victims for the violence they have suffered and enshrining traditional views of family roles that perpetuate that same violence.
On May 9, 2023, Albanian media reported that an Albanian man residing in Torremaggiore, a town in southeastern Italy, had murdered his16-year-old daughter and an Italian man, and severely wounded his wife.
With initial reports relying mostly on translations from Italian media, a narrative began to solidify across Albanian tabloids and other news channels, even as evidence was still in flux. On May 6, Taulant Malaj, originally from Vlora and residing for 18 years in Italy, tried to murder his wife Tefta, accusing her of having an affair with their Italian neighbor. When his daughter tried to intervene in order to save her mother’s life, he stabbed her instead. Having wounded both his daughter and wife, Malaj went in pursuit of their neighbor, 51-year-old Massimo De Santis, killing him too. In the aftermath, Malaj recorded the scene and shared it on WhatsApp with his contacts.
While the identity of the victims and the main facts of the case appeared straightforward, the actual details of what happened that day were far murkier, as were Taulant Malaj’s words, actions, and motive. A simple pursual of the articles published by Albanian media or during news broadcasts relay conflicting information. Some claimed that Malaj murdered his daughter and wounded his wife at home, after allegedly seeing his wife text her presumed lover. Others, however, reported that he had run into the man he accused of having an affair with his wife after returning home from work and murdered him before entering his own home and taking his daughter’s life also.
And yet, despite the uncertainty that surrounded much of the events as they were being reported in the aftermath of the murders, Albanian media decided to run multiple articles with unconfirmed allegations and accusations. Under such circumstances, disinformation spread like wildfire across portals and news channels, blurring facts and speculations, and making the wife a lightning rod for misogynistic accusations and online hatred, based on her husband’s allegations alone.
Some of the country’s biggest media websites published articles that highlighted the husband’s supposed motivations, in his own words. One headline writes: “My wife had been cheating on me with that Italian man for over a year, he would drive her around in a Maserati.” Another tabloid claims that the wife had admitted to the affair: ‘“She admitted her affair with the Italian,’ the Albanian man who killed his daughter and wounded his wife confesses.”
However, the only evidence for these statements (that the wife had been having an affair for over a year, and that she had admitted to such an affair to her husband), come from the perpetrator himself. Even when the husband’s words were not cited directly in the sensationalist titles, the alleged affair and the husband’s supposed jealousy took center stage. These accusations were inescapable: almost exclusively, any report of this tragedy in Albanian media included the allegations that the wife had an affair in the title, or the lede. Not only were these allegations unproven, in framing this act of violence as one of jealousy, the media coverage of this act of femicide validated the perspective of the husband, often unintentionally providing a justification for his crimes by associating the violence with the supposed affair.
In the aftermath of the event, Taulant Malaj’s claims about his wife’s alleged affair—so confidently spread by Albanian media—were challenged by the wife herself. In an interview for Albanian media, Teuta said that she had never heard the affair accusations before the evening of the event. “This was the first time he accused me of having an affair,” she said. She also denied knowing the Italian victim beyond cordial neighborly relations.
The brother of the Italian victim also refuted claims of the affair during Massimo De Santis’s funeral. “There was nothing between them, my brother had no way of meeting with her, not even at his bar,” Gianluca De Santis told Italian media. “Massimo had been living in that condominium for 43 years with our mother, who is 80 and a widow. Relations with [the Albanian] family…were excellent, normal relations between neighbors, they greeted and respected each other,” he added.
Teuta Malaj’s attorney, speaking to Italian media, even denied claims that the daughter’s murder was the unfortunate consequence of her being at the wrong place at the wrong time. According to Taulant’s testimony, he had been aiming for his wife and Jessica tried to protect her mother. Instead, Michele Sodrio argued that both murders had been premeditated and will be prosecuting the case as such in the near future according to his statements. Sodrio had even asked the Italian police to collect Taulant’s phone to collect evidence of premeditation.
According to our investigations, the case appears to be ongoing, and the Italian police has not made a final declaration on the case. However, these has not stopped Albanian media from speculating and spreading disinformation about the case from the very first moment Italian news channels began reporting on it.
A Media-Wide Problem
Albania has a domestic violence problem: according to the National Institute of Statistics, “more than half of Albanian women and girls aged 15-74 years old have experienced one or more of the five different types of violence (intimate partner violence, dating violence, non-partner violence, sexual harassment and/or stalking), during their lifetime.” Femicide—the killing of a woman or girl by a man in account of her gender—is the most extreme outcome of usually protracted periods of violence at home.
While UN Women has called for the Albanian government to collect and work on the problem of femicide, official statistics are scarce. As their report outlines, the Criminal Code contains provisions that punish domestic violence, “the criminal legislation of the Republic of Albania does not contain any expressed provision that regulates gender-related murders.” The only numbers available on femicide have been collected by journalists or NGOs, like Qendra për Nisma Ligjore Qytetare (The Center for Legal Action from Citizens). Their report on femicide in Albania collected data for the period between 2017 and 2020.
This report shows that in the overwhelming majority of cases, if a woman or girl is the victim of a murder, the murder could be categorized as femicide, with intimate partners (husbands, boyfriends, or even stalkers) being the most likely perpetrators. Furthermore, the study confirms that traditional views on gender roles underpinned the perpetrator’s motive. As in the Italy case outline above, a sense of entitlement towards the female partner was often used as justification by the male partner. Men imprisoned for femicide cited disrespect, jealousy, alleged affairs, requests for divorce or even protection orders filed by their wives as the main reasons for the femicide.
We can see how these ideas about the husband’s rights over his wife and her body, and what an alleged affair meant for his status as an “Albanian man,” might have played in the Italian case. Even the mere suspicion of an affair could be seen as an affront to his authority as a man and demanded retaliation according to a patriarchal logic. In fact, a survey on Albanians’ attitude towards gender roles shows that Albanians expect women “to behave within traditional gender roles and be subservient to men,” and that “Men are perceived to hold ‘rightful’ positions of dominance and power over women.” Given these perceptions, it is perhaps not surprising to find out that around 23% of Albanian men believe that “even the suspicion of infidelity was a ‘good reason’ for a man to hit his female partner.”
Albanian media play a clear role in perpetuating these stereotypes. In the case of Taulant Malaj’s murder of his daughter and wounding of his wife, portals and news channels helped spread disinformation by either alluding to the alleged affair or reporting Malaj’s words as fact. As has been the case with other femicides (where Albanian media emphasized “jealousy” or “passion” as motive) this framing privileges the perspective of the husband. It also perpetuates those attitudes that understand gender-based violence as a momentary lapse in judgment resulting from the woman’s actions, rather than the result of sexisms and ingrained gender roles.
The result of this (unintentional perhaps) disinformation campaign on the part of Albanian media were evident. Teuta Malaj was haunted on social media, already deemed culpable despite the lack of evidence. “She feels persecuted by all those who are attacking her heavily on social media, as if it was her fault for what Taulant has done,” her lawyer told Italian media.
A review of the comments on social media pertaining to this case confirm Sardo’s claims. A good portion of the comment on just one Facebook post, for instance, justify Taulant’s actions. One person writes: “Good for him. He worked while his wife and daughter had threesomes without a care,” and agrees concords with him: “He was right. Mother and daughter slept with the Italian guy and he was working. It’s unjust.” Even those who did not justify his violence, decried the daughter’s death while showing no compassion for the mother’s: “They are both at fault, but if you don’t love each other, divorce. What a shame their poor daughter.”
What we notice here is that the Albanian public has internalized these narratives pushed by the media (along with broader society) wherein a man’s anger is both a natural, biological reaction and justified, and the woman is inherently at fault, even when the facts are not available. But even if she had cheated, it is enough to see how her straying would warrant this level of violence, because it is a man’s duty to defend his honor.
With investigations still ongoing in Italy, it is easy to paint this tragedy as another case of “he said she said.” But in the aftermath of the crime, Albanian media—thirsty for engagement—were quick to lend credence to the husband’s version of the story. They published his gory pictures and videos but made sure to provide justification for his actions in their very titles. Many viewers and readers were quick to believe and even to a certain extent absolve him. After having lost her daughter, Teuta Malaj is now left to pick up the pieces of bother her life, and her reputation. Meanwhile, other men are emboldened and find justification for their anger in the pages and comments of Albanian portals and the guests of popular TV shows. Until the cycle repeats again in a few months, or perhaps even weeks.