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Assaulted by beggar in Florence, Italy

Five days ago I was sitting in the Florence train station reading a book. I am a 71 year-old woman with grey hair. I was traveling with my husband and adult son. As I sat reading, I heard a voice say "Signore" twice. I ignored the person, a woman. She then kicked me hard on my calf leaving what would become a very large bruise. My son got up and told the woman who was accompanied by a man in a wheelchair that she could not attack his mother. The man in the wheelchair began to assault my son with his wheelchair, even when my son backed off. Approximately 20 or 25 people witnessed this assault. Two Italian policemen were nearby. I described as best I could what happened. They asked if I wanted to go to the hospital and then press charges. Since I was waiting for a train, I didn't feel I could do so. Other than talking with these two people, nothing was done to these attackers that I could see. One policeman did tell me that this couple are regulars at the Florence train station.

I believe I was a great target because I am old, obviously a tourist passing through, and probably do not speak Italian. I have made five trips to Italy throughout my life and consider myself to be a savvy independent traveler. I have never been assaulted like this before. On this trip we were almost continually bothered by very aggressive beggars who were persistent in their demands that we give them money. I live part time in France and go to Paris frequently. I haven't seen the level and aggressiveness of begging in Paris and I did in the Veneto and in Florence.

I am writing this to warn others who are in my category to be aware of what can happen to older independent travelers who are perceived to be vulnerable.

Posted by
6801 posts

CM,
Since these two are regulars known to the police, and so many readers of this forum are on their way to Florence, i suggest you also post this report on the Italy page. I will be in the Florence train station in a couple of days and certainly appreciate you reporting this terrible experience. Hope you heal quickly. Bets

Posted by
1501 posts

I am so sorry this happened to you! Train stations have always been a haven for pick pockets, but this is the first time I've heard of any violence in Italy at all! Thanks for posting. I'm sending my young niece to Italy this December, and told her that she needed to watch her valuables, but never did I think I'd have to warn her about a violent attack.

Posted by
7144 posts

So sorry this happened to you! Thank you for warning us.

Posted by
3263 posts

You didn't mention having anything taken while this "distraction" was going on. That's a good thing.

The perps probably count on their traveling victims not pressing charges. And if your son had been more aggressive, they might have pressed charges against him!

I hope you are okay now and that the tourist bosses take some action against these known offenders. But I'd guess that Florence gets so many visitors, they don't care.

Maybe when approached we should pretend we are Russian. That's what my husband did in front of Notre Dame and the fake-baby beggar gave up immediately.

Posted by
843 posts

I too am sorry for what happened to you.

To Lo, curious as to how someone pretends to be Russian?! I can see getting away with it here with an accent, but do the beggars in front of ND have such a sophisticated ear to pick up on that. Just curious.

Posted by
3263 posts

It is kind of a funny story. While I was inside Notre Dame, my husband stayed outside, sat and read. He was approached by a woman with an obviously fake baby. For some reason, it popped into his head to tell her "no" in Russian -- except he said "da" very forcefully instead of "nyet." In spite of the vocabulary flip-flop, she walked away immediately. He heard her mumble disgustingly, "Russian" -- in English. Physically he looks like any bulky, old, white haired, white bearded guy with glasses. He didn't know why she walked away so quickly, but he assumed the language was the reason.

Posted by
22 posts

So sorry this happened to you. I hope you are ok. The beggars in Florence are the among the most aggressive I have seen; the Milan train station is also very unpleasant. (When we were there last December you had to pay to use the bathrooms, which is how they keep vagrants out of them.) In fact, we were followed twice by people in the Milan train station and once in Florence SMN. I have found that saying "basta", firmly, which means enough, usually works. Also. looking right at these people, saying a word or two to let them know you are on to them, has also worked for me. ( I am a 60 year old lady, a New Yorker, from Brooklyn. )
In fact, Roma Termini is also a bit sketchy. Perhaps all train stations are like this; Penn Station (in NY, where I live, is not much better.)
On the whole, I think the police could do a much better job of cleaning out these stations. Tourism is a huge industry; unfortunate incidents, like what happened to you, are bad for everyone.
Once again, hope you are better and never have an experience like this again.

Posted by
2081 posts

cmmorganlevy,

Its unfortunate that you had to go through this. But you are lucky you were not more seriously injured.

Whats really unfortunate is that what happened to you an many others is not uncommon there or around the world. We have the same issues with "known" criminals that are more or less on a first name bases with Law Enforcement and they know the system and how to get around it.

We also had an issue with "aggressive" pan handlers up here too. Our nice and generous reputation is one of the reasons why we get many from the surrounding states. But once the aggressiveness was spreading, the local officials decided to do something about it. As could other places too, but apparently its not a priority to them. As i mentioned before, as long as it happens to "others" and not the locals its okay.

A saying up here is that, "if you feed them, they will come" and so they did. As long as people keep "feeding" them, they will come.

happy trails.

Posted by
5703 posts

Since police observed the incident they could certainly have arrested these people on their own evidence. The choice to allow this to continue is appalling. Same with the well organized pick pockets all over Europe; it just isn't a priority apparently and so tourists have to be savy about not being vulnerable to this constant barage of petty thievery. Being assaulted is somewhat rare and I would think the local police would want to intervene before this actually damages their tourist trade.

Posted by
5703 posts

Since police observed the incident they could certainly have arrested these people on their own evidence. The choice to allow this to continue is appalling. Same with the well organized pick pockets all over Europe; it just isn't a priority apparently and so tourists have to be savy about not being vulnerable to this constant barage of petty thievery. Being assaulted is somewhat rare and I would think the local police would want to intervene before this actually damages their tourist trade.

Posted by
6801 posts

Just a little claification: She said the police were nearby but didn't say they witnessed it.

Posted by
19 posts

My wife and I were at Florence SMN station about ten days ago. For those of you planning on being there soon just a heads up regarding a few things we observed:

1) a couple ladies, working as a team, moved from side to side of an ATM attempting to peer over the shoulder of the user. I can assume they were trying to see the PINS being entered.
2) we observed a lady boarding a train with other passengers, only to exit several cars ahead. She did this on two different trains. We've heard of these people walking inside the cars and lifting a bag of an unsuspecting passenger.
3) be careful of the guy who offers to help you with your bag(s) as you board the train. I spoke to an American passenger who allowed a man to help him and his wife aboard with their bags. The visitor had to argue with the guy for over five minutes after the guy demanded five Euros per bag for his portering service. He finally left after successfully badgering getting a total of five Euros.
4) regarding the beggars, a firm, "No!" or "Basta!" while making direct eye contact is typically enough to thwart their efforts.

We found that taking the practical precautions offered by RS as well as others on these forums provided us with enough awareness and know-how to avoid an unfortunate incident. Granted, cmmorganlevy's accosting was an entirely different event and would seem extremely difficult to have anticipated or been avoided.

Posted by
5703 posts

Italy has no train security (unlike Spain) and for decades now I have observed these thieves board the train as if they were passengers then walk through the train stealing small items. A favorite trick is to grab a purse or computer bag sitting in a seat as the person occupying that seat is standing and putting their larger bag in the overhead rack. There is so much crowding and jostling that people don't notice the other 'passenger' has snagged their bag -- and then they are off the train with the goodies. At any stop, thieves can also grab suitcases and leave with them from the storage racks at the ends of the car; this is less common, but it happens.

Posted by
796 posts

I wish you had pressed charges. This is the only way to get these people out of circulation. These people physically attacked you and your husband and no train is worth letting them get away with violence.It's not like you can't catch another train. This encourages them and they might do a lot worse to you the next time thinking you won't do anything about it. You are not old. Maybe in 20 years you can claim being old but not now. People can live into their 100's due to modern medicine and healthy lifestyles.

There are plenty of beggars there and pickpockets but assaults are not usual. They do target people they think are tourists, of all ages.