Crime in Sicily
For many, Sicily's associations with crime taint their preconceptions of the island. Unfortunately, apprehension can deter travellers from visiting what is actually a wonderful tourist destination.
There are those who are scared of Sicily's criminal side, and those who think it's glamorous or titillating. Neither view bears much relation to the realities of modern Sicily. Over the decades, headlines and court cases have borne witness to the presence in Sicily of organised crime, corruption, extortion and assassination. Shrouded by secrecy, protected by blood-oaths, murders and bribery, the Mafia - or Cosa Nostra - has long exerted its hold, particularly over Palermo and the western half of the island. This highly-organised criminal association blossomed with tacit US support during and after the Second World War, and rose to control much of Italy's politics and organised crime. The last couple of decades, however, has seen an unprecedented openness,
as Italy attempts to come to terms with its legacies of criminality and bloodshed. In a series of massive trials (including those of a former prime minister), the cleaning up has begun.
Naturally it's a slow progress with major obstacles on the way. Organised crime has been a part of Sicilian culture for too long to be eradicated quickly and simply, it's engrained
into most aspects of the society and political structures of the country.
Although Corleone - home of real-life crime bosses and immortalised in the The Godfather - is visited by tourists nowadays, the Mafia is still a reality. It's not yet a subject which many will
be comfortable discussing. For a good understanding of some of the roots and ramifications, try reading Peter Robb's Midnight in Sicily. However, as a tourist, you are extremely unlikely to be affected by Sicily's organised crime. You can see its legacy in the half-finished developments and shoddy housing, where funds were milked away, or the luxury hotels built with murky budgets, and you
may see the headlines covering ongoing trials or police raids, but that should be the closest you'll get to glimpsing Mafia activity.
Petty crime, such as pickpocketing, is a more realistic threat to the tourist - although even this risk is not much greater than in any Italian city.
As normal when travelling, you should keep alert. If somewhere feels really dodgy, leave. Palermo can be empty and intimidating at night, so make sure you know where you're going. Be careful with your possessions, don't flash money or expensive items about, and leave nothing of value in parked cars.
Sicily is more old-fashioned than other parts of Europe (or even Italy) and solitary women should be prepared for a great deal of attention. This is usually unlikely to progress beyond
a 'Ciao!', a lascivious stare or appreciative kissing noises, and with confidence and sensible precautions, this should not spoil your stay.