Earlier this year, the soapy Netflix drama Elite swept us into a world of a Spanish private school where three scholarship students disrupt the social balance. On November 30, when the show Baby drops on Netflix, we’ll head to another expensive private school, where Roman teens are getting up to a different kind of no good. The theme of Netflix shows this autumn seems to be "Rich European Teens Behaving Badly."
The major difference between Baby and Elite, aside from setting and language? Baby is loosely based on real — and really scandalous — events that occurred in Rome in 2013 and 2014.
In Baby, two high-schoolers in the posh Paroli district of Rome begin working as sex workers. Seemingly, Chiara (Benedetta Porcaroli) and Ludovica (Alice Pagani) are drawn to this underworld from a sense of ennui, as well as the desire for sexual freedom and financial independence. “If you’re 16 and live in the most beautiful neighbourhood in Rome, you’re lucky,” Chiara says at the start of the first episode. “But you need a secret life.”
The real events that inspired Baby are similar, if not more extreme. In 2013, a 14-year-old and 15-year-old from the Paroli district of Rome were found at the centre of a prostitution ring. In news coverage, the girls were referred to by the fake names Angela (the older girl) and Agnese (the younger). They had been friends since middle school. As The Daily Beast reports, the older girl comes from a “notable Roman family.” Likely, in Baby, Angela is represented by Chiara, the disaffected only child of two wealthy Romans. The younger girl, Agnese, is the daughter of a single mother who had been struggling financially. She's Ludovica in the show.
According to testimony given to investigating prosecutor Christina Macchiusi, Angela and Agnese fell into prostitution after searching for “easy money” on Google in July 2013. They followed an ad, which led them to their future pimps: Mirko Ieni and army official Nunzio Pizzacalla. Soon, they set up a two-bedroom apartment on Viale Paroli, where the girls met clients after school. The girls began spending their earnings on mobile phones, designer clothing, and makeup. “I wanted a lot of money and I didn’t want to miss out on having on anything,” Angela said during the interview. They were making an estimated 500-600 euros a day; Ieni took a cut of the earnings.
The girls’ mothers played roles in the ring, though in different ways. The ring was discovered when the mother of the older girl, Angela, called the police, confused about her daughter’s influx of income. Agnese’s mother, however, encouraged her daughter’s career, and set a price of 300 euros for each after-school encounter. In wiretapped cell phone calls, Agnese’s mother is heard scolding her daughter for not working. According to Italian Insider, she was sentenced to six years in prison and stripped of parental rights.
The uncovering of the sex ring — and its high-profile clientele, which included government officials — created a media sensation in Italy, typically referred to as the “baby squillo” scandal, which translates to “baby prostitute.”
After the sex ring was discovered, investigators began the process of identifying the girls’ clients. Prostitution is legal in Italy, though paying for sex with a minor under 18 is illegal. Police believe the clients were well aware Agnese and Angela were both under the age of 18. In his deposition, Ieni essentially confirmed this, saying the girls’ age “was the real draw that helped lure customers.”
In 2014, police had gathered a list of at least 50 clients, including lawyers, politicians, UN staff members, bankers, butchers, and businessmen. They also had proof of the sordid text messages clients exchanged with the girls.
Of the 50, the ring’s most high-profile client was certainly police officer Mauro Floriani. Floriani is married to Alessandra Mussolini, a senator in Italy’s right-leaning Forza Italia party and granddaughter of of fascist leader Benito Mussolini. He was nicknamed “Captain Mussolini,” and worked in the tax and border police before becoming a manager of Italy’s national railway company, Trenitalia. He and Mussolini, who headed a parliamentary committee on children’s rights, had three children together. However, this wasn’t the first time Mussolini was personally affected by a scandal of this variety: Only the year prior, in 2013, Forza Italia PM Silvio Berlusconi was convicted of paying for sex with an underage prostitute, Karia El-Mahroug.
Floriani, along with other clients, were found guilty. As of June 2015, 11 clients had received one-year prison sentences and fines. Ieni was sentenced to 10 years in prison; Pizzacalla to seven. Agnese’s mother, as mentioned earlier, was sentenced to six years in prison.
The baby squillo scandal has inspired other works. The 2015 novel Professione Lolita by Daniele Autieri follows a group of teenagers in Paroli who get involved with prostitution and the Roman underworld. A docu-film of the same name aired in Italy in 2017.
Baby’s creators acknowledged the show’s overlap with real events. Of Baby, one of the show’s directors, Andrea De Sica, said, “We tried to be as faithful as possible to [the girls] conflicts and their choices,” but added, “what you’ve seen is not a chronicle of real-life events.”