(Reuters) — Far-right leader Giorgia Meloni, who is leading the race to become Italy’s next prime minister, was accused on Monday of shameful election campaigning by her rivals after she posted a video of a Ukrainian woman being raped by a migrant in an Italian city.
The 55-year-old woman was assaulted on a sidewalk in the city of Piacenza early Sunday by an asylum seeker from Guinea, local officials said. The incident was recorded by someone who was in an apartment overlooking the street and the aggressor was arrested.
Police confirmed the arrest and said the man was in custody while the investigation continued.
Meloni, whose Brothers of Italy party is leading the polls ahead of national elections on September 25, tweeted the video, which had been posted on a newspaper’s website with the image blurred but the woman’s screams clearly audible.
“One cannot remain silent in the face of this appalling episode of sexual violence against a Ukrainian woman perpetrated in broad daylight in Piacenza by an asylum seeker,” Meloni wrote.
“A hug to this woman. I will do my best to restore security in our cities.”
The tweet sparked a barrage of criticism online, as well as from Meloni’s political opponents.
“It is indecent to use images of rape. Even more indecent to do so for electoral purposes,” Enrico Letta, leader of the center-left Democratic Party (PD), wrote on Twitter.
Another centrist leader, Carlo Calenda, called Meloni’s tweet “immoral.”
Igiaba Scego, a prominent Italian writer of Somali descent, accused Meloni of exploiting the rape victim.
“Offered as clickbait voyeurism rather than protected. This election campaign is horrendous,” he wrote.
Meloni, who has called for a naval blockade of North Africa to prevent migrant boats from setting sail, said on Facebook that her rivals had used the rape to target her while ignoring the victim to avoid addressing what she called the migration emergency.
Letta’s post said, “Respect for people and victims always comes first,” and Calenda wrote “only the victims matter.”