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Italian Ring Allegedly Brainwashed Children Into Believing They Were Sexually Abused

A ring of social workers, psychologists, doctors and a mayor have been arrested in connection with an investigation that alleges children were brainwashed into believing they were sexually abused to sell to foster parents.

The investigation, dubbed "Angels and Demons", began in 2018 after police noticed a confusing spike in the number of child sexual abuse allegations in the Italian province of Reggio Emilia.

Police allege that children were brainwashed during psychotherapy sessions into believing they had been sexually abused at home, using various techniques including electroshock therapy and dressing up as evil characters to alter their perceptions of their parents.

According to Italy's Ansa News agency, investigators also believe social workers produced fraudulent drawings of sexual acts which they claimed to be drawn by the children, as well as faked documents claiming their living conditions at home were untenable.

Dozens of gifts and letters sent from parents to the children who were taken into state care were also hidden in a warehouse, and social workers reportedly failed to hand these on to the children.

teddy bear
Photo: Getty.

In total, around 30 children were taken away from vulnerable families allegedly using these methods.

The children were then handed on to the non-for-profit Hansel and Gretel association, which then handed them on to foster parents in exchange for money.

In one episode recounted by Italian Newspaper La Repubblica, a psychologist insisted that a girl had said she was afraid of her father, even though the child could not remember why she was taken from her family.

"You said you didn't want to see him because you were afraid that he would hurt you," the psychologist said.

"Do you remember the fear you felt? Do you remember now?"

Investigators allege that hundreds of thousands of euros were acquired through this method.

Italy has been shocked by the ring, with some of the children reportedly sexually abused by their new foster parents and others turning to acts of self-harm and drugs in their new families.

Prime Minister Guiseppe Conte at G20 Summit. Source: Getty Images.

Lorenzo Fontana, Italy's Minister for Families and Disabilities, said the allegations were "shockingly serious", and Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said at the G20 summit that the "accusations, if confirmed, are frightening and shocking".

Dozens of other workers are now under investigation. The initial 18 are charged with a long list of crimes including abusing minors, grave injuries, abuse of power, embezzlement, judicial fraud and fabricating evidence.

To talk to somebody about child abuse or child sex abuse, call the Kids Helpline (ages 5 to 25) on 1800 55 1800, or call the Blue Knot helpline on 1300 657 380 between 9 am and 5 pm Monday to Sunday AEST. You can also email helpline@blueknot.org.au.