Ahead of Safer Internet Day on Tuesday, which promotes a more responsible approach to online activity, the children’s charity found that the vast majority of Italians think adult-teen relationships are rife.
Eighty-one percent of Italians think that sexual interactions have spread online and the internet is the main way to develop relationships that can turn into physical encounters, Save the Children said. The age of consent in Italy is 14.
Interaction between the over-45s and children was common, with 28 percent telling the charity they had been in touch with teenagers online that they did not know personally. A tenth of these said the teen had instigated contact.
The acceptance of relationships between children and adults has also gained legitimacy in Italy’s courts. In December Italy’s highest court overturned the conviction of a 60-year-old social worker for having sex with an 11-year-old girl in his care, arguing that she was “in love” with him.
A November survey found that 11,000 children in Italy are forced into prostitution, just weeks after a woman in Rome was arrested for prostituting her teenage daughter who was lured into sex work online.
While a number of adults make contact with teenagers online, the sex trade is also prevalent among peers in Italy.
The “baby call girl” scandal last Autumn highlighted a number of cases of teenagers prostituting themselves in school. Rather than being isolated incidents, however, 14 percent of Italian teens said sex was sold to classmates and a quarter of those said they had paid for numerous sexual encounters with the girls.