Europe's top human rights court has ruled against authorities in a landmark case of domestic violence in Italy. Rome has struggled to combat violence against women, although officials say the situation is improving.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on Thursday ruled that Italy failed to protect a mother and son from multiple accounts of domestic violence spanning less than two years.

Italian authorities created a "situation of impunity conducive to the recurrence of the acts of violence, which had then led to the attempted murder" of a wife and the death of her son, the court said in a press statement.

In 2012, the husband attacked his wife with a knife and ordered her to have "sexual relations with his friends." Police responded to the incident by fining the man for carrying a prohibited weapon and telling the wife to go home.

A year later, the husband again attacked his wife with a knife and stabbed his son, who attempted to breakup the quarrel. The child later died of his injuries.

Police responded to at least four accounts of domestic violence in less than 18 months involving the married couple. But the court found that Italian authorities did not provide "appropriate protection" to the woman and her child.

The court ruled that the "violence inflicted upon (them) should be considered as being grounded on sex and that it consequently amounted to a form of discrimination against women."

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