In 2013, Italian media was transfixed by the "baby squillo" (translating to "baby prostitute") scandal, in which approximately 50 men — including high-ranking government officials and the husband of Benito Mussolini’s granddaughter — were found to be paying for sex with a 14-year-old (called Agnese in the press) and 15-year-old girl (Angela) in the posh Parioli district of Rome.
In season 1 of Baby, the show’s main characters, Chiara (Benedetta Porcaroli) and Ludovica (Alice Pagani), become involved in a prostitution ring, just like in the real scandal. Ludo and Chiara are modeled off Agnese and Angela, respectively. According to The Daily Beast, Angela, like Chiara, is from a well-to-do family in the Paroli district. Agnese, like Ludo, is the daughter of a single mother who struggled with financial difficulties.
In Baby, the girls’ foray into escorting is framed as an adventure and a bid for freedom. "Chiara feels something inside forcing her to behave and live according to what is expected from her. The transition to adulthood becomes, for her, the first time she has the opportunity to be herself and to live, perhaps even by making mistakes, according to her natural impulses. Only through this process will she discover her real nature," Porcaroli told Refinery29 last year.
Unlike their fictional counterparts, Agnese and Angela were drawn into prostitution for financial, not spiritual, freedom. In front of prosecutor Cristina Macchiusi and deputy prosecutor Maria Monteleone in November 2013, Angela and Agnese described getting involved with prostitution after searching for “easy money” on Google. They met their future pimps, Mirko Ieni and army corporal Nunzio Pizzacalla, after responding to an ad. Angela and Agnese operated out of a two-bedroom apartment on Via Parioli in Rome, sometimes making 400 to 500 euro a day.
While prostitution is legal in Italy, it is illegal to pay for sex with a minor. Agnese and Angela insist that their clients knew they were underage, and paid for sex anyway.
Angela, the older of the two, got hooked on the lifestyle of bags and phones. Agnese, who was 14, felt compelled to continue for another reason, even after Angela stopped: her mother.
The most significant difference between Agnese and Ludo is their mothers’ involvement. Ludo’s mom in the show is an absent-minded narcissist who would rather spend time with her boyfriend than with Ludo. But she was not a pimp.
Agnese’s mother allegedly pushed her daughter into to help with their financial struggles, exacerbated by her husband’s departure and the economic crisis. According to Agnese’s testimony, her mother was making 800 euro a month at a shop and paying 800 euro a month in rent.
In a call that was wiretapped during the investigation, authorities believe they found proof of Agnese's mother’s involvement.
Agnese said she wasn’t feeling well and couldn’t work. Her mother responded, “What are we going to do then? I’m short [of money] and we need to recuperate the funds.” The mother expressed concern they won’t make up for the week’s losses. “What’s wrong, you don’t want it?” she asked, suggesting that Agnese alternate between studying and working as a prostitute.
After the scandal made headlines, Agnese’s mother was sentenced to six years in prison and prohibited from seeing her daughter. Agnese insists, however, that her mother didn’t know about the prostitution — only that she was bringing home desperately needed money. Agnese told her mother she was dealing drugs.
According to a 2014 interview conducted by the Huffington Post in Italian, Agnese misses her mother desperately.
Baby is not an adaptation of these true events, ultimately. Rather, the events are a springboard for a show that imagines the life of teenagers in this posh Roman district. Come season 2, the show will likely diverge entirely from the shadow of the “baby squillo” scandal, and follow Ludo and Chiara — not Agnese and Angela.