By Antonella Cinelli
ROME (Reuters) - Italy's government on Thursday proposed emergency measures to combat violence against women after national outrage over a spate of attacks including the burning alive of a teenager by a jealous boyfriend.
Prime Minister Enrico Letta told reporters he was "very proud" of the emergency decree, which toughens penalties and increases protection for victims. It must be approved by both houses of parliament to become law.
Under the decree, after a women has reported an attack she can no longer ask for the case to be dropped, something that often happens as a result of intimidation.
Among other changes, women victims will be continually informed of developments in their case, such as when their attacker's sentence has expired or when he is released from custody.
Cases of violence against women are to be given priority in Italy's notoriously slow justice system and victims will be guaranteed a state lawyer regardless of their income.
"We have not only sent out a signal, we have made radical changes," Letta said.
The decree increases current sentences by a third if violence against a woman is carried out in the presence of a minor, if the victim is pregnant or the perpetrator is a husband, ex-husband or boyfriend.
If the victim is an illegal immigrant she will be entitled to a resident's permit on humanitarian grounds.
No official statistics exist on the number of murders of women in Italy, but Telefono Rosa, a domestic violence support group, said that last year 124 women were killed by men because of their gender, most by current or former partners.
A 2012 United Nations report on violence against women in Italy said more than 90 percent of women who suffered rape or abuse did not report it, and though murders of men by men had fallen, the number of women killed by men had increased.
In May 16-year-old Fabiana Luzzi was burned alive by her jealous 17-year-old boyfriend in southern Italy. The lower house of parliament observed a minute's silence in her memory.
Italy ranked 80th out of 135 countries in the World Economic Forum's 2012 Gender Gap Report, one of the lowest ratings in Europe. The report said it had low wage equality and low numbers of women in senior positions.
(Writing by Gavin Jones; editing by Andrew Roche)