by Marzia De Giuli
ROME, May 7 (Xinhua) — “My son is eight years old and I watch him constantly,” said a mother named Fernanda Massarotto in Italy.
“I always tell him not to talk with strangers and never accept a gift from them. Yet, reading the news these days has made me a little worried,” she told Xinhua.
Massarotto, a journalist who is in Italy working for Brazilian newspaper O Globo, referred to the several pedophilia cases which have rocked the country in recent days.
Among them there was the story of a six-year-old kid who prosecutors believe, was raped and then murdered by a pedophile.
Another pedophile was arrested for having abused a girl while pretending to be a gym teacher. The third one was sentenced to jail for offering boys money in exchange for sex.
On Thursday, Italy’s national day against pedophilia and child pornography, Italian President Sergio Mattarella called for increased education to a culture of respect towards the weak. Protecting children, he said, is a duty that no one is exempt from, as they are “the center and the future of every society.”
But despite the efforts from institutions and civil society, pedophilia is still an underestimated phenomenon in Italy, also due to a code of silence by adults, Italian Psychiatric Association President Claudio Mencacci told Xinhua.
Mencacci said there has been an escalation of cases reported to the police in recent years, but these abuses are just the tip of an iceberg.
In fact, he added, most incidents occur at home, which means the phenomenon is even less visible.
Pedophiles can be divided into two categories, the ego-dystonic ones, or those who know they are harming children, and the ego-syntonic ones, or those who feel in harmony with their behavior, Mencacci explained to Xinhua. “Unfortunately the recent cases have highlighted that the most frequent are the latter, who are also the most difficult to cure as they do not recognize they have a problem,” he said.
In both cases, he underlined, most pedophiles are people who themselves were abused when they were children.
“Child abuse is an experience that scars for life,”he said. “Scientific evidence has also been found that child abuse can leave epigenetic marks on DNA and cause erosion of telomeres, or the end of chromosomes. Protecting children is a fundamental duty of society,” Mencacci highlighted.
Giovanni Arena, president of Italian children’s rights group Telefono Arcobaleno Onlus (Rainbow phone non-profit organization), said growing inequality, poverty and the lack of family protection policies are the social environment where pedophiles can find their victims more easily.
“According to a recent study of our observatory conducted in Italy, it has emerged that pedophiles belong to all age and social groups, and generally are an active part of their victims’ family or social nets,” he told Xinhua.
For this reason, prevention is a fundamental instrument to teach adults how to recognize the possible risks around or the signs of discomfort shown by children, Arena stressed.
This is a central task carried out by his children’s rights group through programs offered especially to those adults who live in close contact with children, such as parents, teachers and educators, he said.