Launched in the late summer of 2018, the operation code-named "Angels and Demons" was a response to an unnaturally high number of claims of child sexual abuse that started appearing in the Reggio Emilia province of Northern Italy. Many are now finding the results hard to believe.
The mayor of Bibbiano, at least one psychologist, and social workers are among 18 people that have been arrested so far on charges of mistreatment of minors, violence, abuse of office, fraud and falsifying public records. 27 others are still under investigation.
Italian PM Giuseppe Conte called the crime “frightening and shocking”, while Minister for Families and Disabilities, Lorenzo Fontana, described it as a “shockingly serious” development and promised a probe into the country’s adoption system.
It has come to light that those involved intended to "pass off as a model welfare system for abused minors what was in reality an illegal business to the children's detriment," La Repubblica newspaper reported. Using false pretexts, social workers would remove children from a home and then work with psychologists to convince the child that they had been abused by their biological parents. Used as tools to accomplish this was a "little memory machine" which would administer electric shocks, sexualized children's drawings, and even plays in which the adults would dress up as "wicked" childrens' characters.
“To brainwash the children, those arrested allegedly forged child-like drawings with sexual connotations and used electroshock therapy as a “little memory machine” to create fake abuse memories, while the therapists are accused of dressing up as “wicked” children’s story characters.”
An affected girl told La Repubblica paper that when she said that she couldn’t remember and was asking why she couldn’t see her dad anymore, she was told: “But don’t you remember you said you didn’t want to see him? I remember this." The psychologist then explained: “Yes, you said you didn’t want to see him because you were afraid that he would hurt you… that he might seek vengeance… or take you away. Do you remember the fear you felt? Do you remember now?”
But the child insisted that she couldn’t remember anything of the sort and that she cried over being separated from her father.
As a part of the investigation, police said they located a warehouse containing gifts and letters from biological parents to their children which the perpetrators never passed on.
Once in this dark system, the children would then be sold a a premium reportedly to those that included sex shop owners, persons with psychological disorders and parents whose children had committed suicide. It was under this ‘foster care’ that at least two of the victims suffered actual sexual abuse, according to reports. Some of the children in this system were already resorting to self-harm as a way of coping with the traumas they had been through.
Authorities have refused to specify the number of children involved, but some estimate the number to be at least thirty. Italian media though, did report that hundreds of thousands of euros were involved in this scheme.