Teenage Intimate Relationships Prevention

Safeguarding Teenage Intimate Relationships, how to connect online and offline contexts and risks?

Gianna Cappello and Noemi De Luca,

[Working Paper]

  1. Introduction

This paper is the result of the expert consultation and the state-of-art review of the Italian literature existing in the field of children’s rights, abuse and violence we conducted between April and August 2013. In order to better represent the Italian situation, we have also provided a review of the policies and the laws starting from the Italian ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child with Law n.176 in 1991 up to the present moment. A special attention has also been given to the issues regarding the relationship between children and digital media, namely internet’s risks.

As for the policy and legal framework, a general lack of political will has been a characteristic of the Italian governments, despite a somewhat greater commitment shown in some periods, unfortunately matched by scarce resources or short governing periods (due to weak governments and political instability). Although all territorial levels of government in Italy have set up a wide array of policies and actions in favor of children, the engagement is not uniform nor standardised, and consistent variations are one of the few characteristics shared by all public entities. A process of rationalisation of the policies on all levels has therefore been recommended by the National Observatory for the Safeguard of Childhood and by several experts and professionals.

Similarly, if we look at the research produced about children’s and adolescents’ rights and protection from abuse and violence, we see that, despite some target-specific studies, no systematic data collection has been yet implemented for monitoring and analyzing the phenomenon in all its forms, occurrences and defining elements, nor extensive and fully monitored experimental action-research projects have been carried out in order to envisage better and more effectives actions and initiatives. Yet, as the experts we consulted pointed out, the construction of a rigorous and consistent system of data collection is the necessary basis for developing a multidimensional (ecological) understanding of the phenomenon that takes into account different levels of analysis (individual, family, social, institutional, etc.), and also the fact that, increasingly, events of abuse, violence, sexual exploitation and child labor tend to be connected today to the national and international networks of organised crime and illegal migratory flows.

As to questions regarding children’s and internet’s risks, from the data we have gathered, we can say that Italy remains largely a “low risk” country, as reported risks for Italian children are among the lowest in Europe. This also implies, however, less opportunities to take advantage of the beneficial effects of the internet. In fact the low-risk condition of Italian children is not the product of a planned risk reduction strategy: Italian children are less exposed to online risks simply because they engage in fewer online activities. Ultimately, this demonstrates they are less digitally-literate and lack basic safety skills. By simply reducing their exposure to online risks cannot but result in persistent digital exclusion. On the contrary, as all experts pointed out, children should be encouraged to learn how to maximise opportunities and minimise risks. Indeed, media education/media literacy needs to be a priority for Italians teachers at all levels of school education as well as for parents and other informal educational actors.

  1. Italian policies on children and the youth

The political debate on children’s rights in Italy mainly developed in the ‘90s, spurred by the adoption of the  Convention  on  the  Rights  of  the  Child,  signed  by  140  UN  member  states,  including  Italy,  on 20th November  1989. Up to that point, the discourse around children revolved around the idea of urgent actions to be taken in order to cope with issues such as child abuse and violence against children.  News stories  contributed to  focus  the  attention  on  the  problems  surrounding  the  youth,  thus  reinforcing representations of the problematic child (“bambino problema”) (Tagliaventi, 2006, p. 95).

The Convention on the Rights of the Child (hereafter referred to as “CRC”), ratified by Italian law n. 176 in 1991, was conducive to the representation of children as they are nowadays conceived in the arguments of Italian politicians. The CRC has played a prominent role in setting forth the rights of the child, thus marking the turn from a needs-based approach to a rights-based one (ibid., p. 98).

The first Action Plan for the Safeguard of Childhood (Piano nazionale di azioni e di interventi per la tutela dei diritti e lo sviluppo dei soggetti in età evolutiva) registered the new approach. The Action Plan is the means identified by the Italian Government in 1995 to provide a framework for the implementation of the CRC. The policy guidelines contained in the Plan mirrored the political will of the Chamber of Deputies (the lower house of the Italian Parliament), expressed through a resolution passed in February 1995: struck by the lack of a homogeneous policy on childhood, the Deputies called for a systematic program to be enforced. The first steps in that direction were taken through law 451/1997 that set up the National Observatory for the Safeguard of Childhood[1] in order to support the definition of priorities for actions to be included in the Action Plan for Childhood. The first Action Plan covered the years 1997 and 1998 and identified the program guidelines to be included in the following Plan, for the years 2000-2001. The latter underlined the need to establish actions to support children of other nationalities living in Italy, as well as children in other countries, through international cooperation initiatives (2000-2001 Action Plan for the Safeguard of Childhood, part 1, section 2). The aims of the second Plan included an organic support for the development of the child by all community and also risk prevention and safeguarding, to be put in place by adequate instruments and with the collaborative effort between the work of the Ministries and institutions at all territorial levels (2000-2001 Action Plan for the Safeguard of Childhood, part 3). Safeguarding the victims of sexual abuse was one specific directive addressed in the document. The monitoring activity pointed out that public administrations collaborated closely towards the prevention of abuse and legal aid for victims.

For the purpose of obtaining a state-of-the-art snapshot of the Italian policies, we will move on to outline the main characteristics of the last Action Plan (2010-2011). In the period 2006-2009, a number of policy proposals were developed by the National Observatory for the Safeguard of Childhood, whose members are in charge of identifying the priorities to be addressed by the biennial Action Plan. Based on the documents drafted by the internal groups of the Observatory, the fourth Action Plan for the years 2010-2011 was approved by Presidential decree on 21st January 2011. Two characteristics distinguish the latest Plan from the previous documents: it focuses primarily on a series of first concerns, which can be ascribed to the four main actions, and all phases related to the drawing up, implementing and monitoring of the guidelines contained in the Plan have been carried out through a collaborative effort of public institutions and the civil society (2010-2011 Action Plan for the Safeguard of Childhood, part 2, p. 6).

The protection of children’s rights is the main topic developed by the second set of actions, which included the fight against the exploitation and abuse of children, as well as themes of disability and the central issue of harmonizing the policies related to healthcare, education and social rights. The political agenda laid out in the Plan was a reaction to the critics moved to the state of the Italian legislation regarding children. The actions encompass a reform of the national legal framework, the reorganisation of the judicial system, the setup of a National Authority for Children and the Youth, greater support to families and conflict mediation services (2010-2011 Action Plan for the Safeguard of Childhood).

2.1. Political deficits

The monitoring activity of the Observatory for Childhood resulted in a report on the achievements reached through the implementation of the 39 actions included in the 2010-2011 Plan (National Observatory   for   Childhood,   2011).   The   report   also   benefitted   from   a   wide   participation   of representatives from other public institutions, such as the National Centre for Documentation on Childhood and the Youth, the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy and its Department of Family Policy. The activity of the Observatory took into account all levels of institutional competence and the work of the third sector and the civil society. The data for the analysis were gathered from different sources: the use of available statistical data; document review of laws, both national and issued by the Regions; socio-educational and health policy planning by the Regions; a questionnaire for the central administration; a questionnaire for the local Authorities for Children and the Youth about the local actions undertaken in the Italian Regions (National Observatory for Childhood, 2011, pp. 15-19).

The general outcomes of the investigation led by the National Observatory (2011, pp. 38-42) are unsurprisingly in line with the critics by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and the Italian Working Group on the CRC[2] (which involves 82 associations and organisations from the third sector), as well as with the criticalities traced by the National Authority for Children and the Youth in their respective reports. The constant decrease of the financial resources allocated to the social policies and the subsistent cuts of the welfare budget, for the greater part due to the regime imposed by the Italian reaction to  the  economic  crisis  started  in  2008,  have  determined  an  insufficient  flow  of  funds  to implement the actions contained in the different programmatic policy documents in the latest period. The National Fund for Childhood – which was the main source of funding for the actions identified by the Action Plan until the law setting it up was reformed – suffered from a 10% decrease in 2013, compared to its 2008 budget (Report by the Italian Working Group on the CRC, 2013, p. 14) and it will further diminish in 2014-2015, bringing the differential to nearly 12% in 2015 (law n. 228/2012, annex, p. 153). This budget analysis confirms the appalling reality that political commitment towards the protection, prevention and assistance of children and the youth in Italy is draining at the same speed as the resources allocated to Italian younger citizens.

In 2004, the National Centre of Documentation and Analysis for Childhood and the Youth[3], (Centro di documentazione e analisi  per  l’infanzia e l’adolescenza)  established with law n. 451/1997, had already brought to the attention of the public and of the policy makers the limited financial commitment of the Italian government towards the youth and families compared to the European average – namely 3.6% against the average 8.3% of the then 25 European countries (National Centre of Documentation and Analysis for Childhood and the Youth, 2004). In 2013, the resources for policies addressed to the safeguarding of children and the youth have not increased: a general lack of political will in all social policies has been a characteristic of the Italian governments, despite a somewhat greater commitment shown in some periods, unfortunately matched by scarce resources or short governing periods (due to weak governments and political instability). Although all territorial levels of government in Italy have set up a wide array of policies and actions in favor of children (National Observatory for Childhood, 2011, p. 36), the engagement is not uniform nor standardised, and consistent variations are one of the few characteristics shared by all public entities. A process of rationalisation of the policies on all levels has therefore been recommended by the National Observatory (ibidem p. 38) and by several experts and professionals (e.g. Tagliaventi, 2006, p. 106).

The highly fragmented political system is also accompanied by a puzzle of data, often not compatible to run meaningful comparisons or missing altogether (National Observatory for Childhood, 2011, pp. 36-39). The three main direct causes for this are the lack of coordination among different institutional levels, the still-missing essential agreed levels (LIVEAS) and the insufficient coordination and a coherent legal framework from the top – from the central government. It is particularly striking that, in the overabundant corpus of laws addressing children’s needs and issues, only few are designed for the over-14 year-old youth. The number further decreases when we take into account laws addressed to over 18s. As pointed out by sociologist Diego Mesa (2006, p. 121), in the period 1990-2000 only about half of the Italian regional governments (out of twenty Regions) issued laws addressing over 14 year olds. The political gap related to the “older youth” is probably to be mainly imputed on the confusion about the definition of youth in Italy. This again results in a legislative discrepancy at the regional levels, where the variation in the age range of targets is startling, and in a normative gap tout court on the level of the central government (Mesa, 2006, pp. 120-121).

The legislative power in Italy has the instrument to review and consolidate all norms and laws about children and the youth under a unified set of laws, which would respond to the need, underlined by many institutional parties, to undertake coordinated and standardised actions. However, an extensive amount of laws coexist to the present day, deepening the differences among heterogeneous realities and territories within the same country. The political analysis carried out above has highlighted the intrinsic lack of political will or otherwise inability to set forth coherent actions to guide the legislative activity in Italy in the past decade or so. With a clear understanding of the political objectives and policies about children in Italy we can now go through an overview of Italian laws about children and the youth, keeping in mind that all deficits traced for the political analysis will seemingly still be valid for the legal framework, since the latter is the tangible outcome of the political agenda.

  1. The legal framework

Great interest in the international political agenda has always been a defining characteristic of Italian foreign affairs, marked by a strong commitment towards children’s rights as set by the international governance. Children rights in Italy therefore ensue from International Law and are largely determined by international treaties. The main agreements that have resulted in the set of rights crystallised by the Italian law are the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the 2012-2015 Council of Europe Strategy for the Rights of the Child.

As already mentioned, in 1989 Italy was one of the signatories of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by Italian law n. 176 in 1991[4]. Political, civil and social rights were set forth in the Convention and reflected by Italian legislation. In the early and mid-nineties, prevention was slowly peeping out to replace the consolidated attitude of dealing with the issues once they emerge, rather than keeping them from happening. In 1998, restraint of children in correctional structures was flanked by alternative options, due to the improvement of non-penal facilities. The novelty of the approach put forth by the CRC was the equality of children and adults as individuals carrying specific rights.

The program “Building a Europe with and for the children”, launched in 2006 by the Council of Europe, began its third cycle in February 2012 with the adoption of the 2012-2015 Strategy[5]. The 2012-2015 Strategy aims at the “effective implementation of children’s rights standards” and focuses on the following strategic objectives: “promoting  child-friendly  services  and  systems;  eliminating  all  forms  of  violence  against children; guaranteeing the rights of children in vulnerable situations; promoting child participation”.

In 1997 the Italian government issued an important legal instrument aimed at creating the conditions for a real implementation of children’s rights and the international agreements signed on this matter. Law 285 of 1997 created the National Fund for Childhood and the Youth within the Prime Minister’s Office, entrusted with funding projects in favor of children, the youth and families[6]. The point of strength of the Fund is that it encouraged the active promotion of children’s rights and of actions developed by local entities, non-public organisations and the civil society. The allocation of the resources made available through the National Fund for Childhood has been modified in the past decade, due to the enforcement of law 328 in 2000[7]  and the reform of fifth section of the Italian Constitution (Constitutional law n. 3/2001). The reform of the Constitution was characterised by a greater decentralisation of powers in the area of social policy, which became exclusive competence of the Regions.

Critics of this decentralisation of social policy are overabundant, as transferring the social policy competence has already resulted in profound differences and unequal treatment and rights of the child in the twenty Regions, especially because a standardised set of requirements for social policy have not yet been designated by the Italian government (Save the Children Italy, 2011, p. 8). The essential levels of social assistance (hereafter LIVEAS) were to be defined by law 328/2000; instead, the law engaged in a very broad  definition  of  the  approximate  guidelines  and  did  not  succeed  in  outlining  the  specific essential levels of social assistance, thus providing no guidance for the Regions involved in the social policy-making. As it is the State’s responsibility to provide equal enjoyment of services to all the citizens (UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, art. 2), the central power is to be held liable for the absence of social service standards. In response to the lack of national standards, in 2011, the Social Policy Committee of the Conference of the Regions issued a document containing the general objectives for social services (Italian Working Group on the CRC, 2013, p. 11). Within the realm of the actions to be carried out in favor of the youth, law n. 328/2000 reserved the use of funds for child prevention, promotion and assistance to minors, altogether excluding the youth over 18 years old (Mesa, 2006, p. 119). This is reinforced by the CRC, which defines minors as individuals below the age of 18, unless majority is attained earlier under the applicable law of the country (UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, art. 1).

When legislating on violence, the Italian regional governments have shown an inclination to enforce acts mostly against gender violence. Domestic violence is particularly prioritised in that it is presumed the validity of a close link between violence perpetrated and received in the setting of the domestic hearth and the direct or indirect consequences of that violence on children. (National Observatory for Childhood, 2011, p. 158). Most corpora juris of the Italian Regions include a local representative of the National Authority for Children and Adolescents (see below) whose tasks are related to the safeguarding of the rights of the child, but the provision by local legislation of such institute does not guarantee that these representatives are granted the effective capacity to monitor the situation of children’s rights. Therefore, the repositioning of the (however scarce) funds and competences for social policy on a decentralised level of government – as of law n. 328/2000 and reform of the fifth section of the Italian Constitution – is not straightforwardly met by the capacity to set up the necessary means to implement policies in favor of children.

In  line  with  the  welfare budget  cuts,  the  years  2010-2011  registered  a  sharp  reduction  of  the available funds for social policy, and for policy addressing childhood specifically. Stability law 2013-2015, formally known as law n. 228/2012[8], has shyly refueled the resources allocated to social policies.

Regions by the reform of the fifth section of the Constitution, did not quite meet the amount of the resources that flowed from the National Fund for Childhood into the Fund for Social Policy (Italian Working Group on the CRC, 2013, p. 9).

3.1  Abuse and  violence  against  the  child.  The  development of  the  legal  framework  and  the  public institutions for the safeguarding of children and the youth

In spite of the paucity of resources for the promotion of children’s rights and for the provision of services, in the last decade the framework of rights for children and the youth in Italy has been improving, even though the issuing of laws has not always been matched by an effective capacity to implement them. Since the mid-nineties, improvements have also been registered in the specific field of the fight against child abuse and violence. The first steps occurred in 1996, when law 66 made sexual violence a crime against the individual, instead of one against the moral code[9]. The criminalisation of the whole spectrum of violence against the individual followed: in 1998, law n. 269[10] was issued to regulate prostitution, pornography, exploitation and sexual tourism to the detriment of minors. This law also introduced for the first time the principle of extraterritoriality: crimes as described above were to be prosecuted even if committed abroad. The novelty of this principle in this field is particularly interesting in that it definitively marked the Italian commitment to contribute to the prosecution of crimes against the child on the international level. Law 269/1998 foreshadowed the set-up of a fund for the victims. However, as pointed out by the National Observatory for Childhood in the 2011 report (p. 156), no resources were allotted.

Almost ten years later, law n. 38 issued in 2006 sealed the recognition of a new crime specimen, that of violence against the child perpetrated on the Internet[11]. The new set of risks related to globalisation and the World Wide Web finally started to be taken in consideration, as new types of crime linked with the use of the Internet were included in the Italian legislation. Law 38/2006 also introduced two new entities to more effectively contrast crimes against children: the Monitoring Unit against Pedophilia and Pedo-pornography, and the National Centre against Online Pedo-pornography. The main task of the Monitoring Unit is to collect data from the public administrations into a database in order to prevent pedophilia. Finally, law n. 38 requested that Internet connection suppliers filter the access to websites blacklisted by the Centre against Online Pedo-pornography, and demanded that online service providers report to the Centre all trade and identities of those involved in pedo-pornography (law n. 38/2006, art. 14).

The Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse signed in Lanzarote in October 2007 was absorbed by the Italian legislation five years later, through law n. 172[12]. The original traits of the Lanzarote Convention lie in the extension of the categorisation of offences against the child, also including grooming (i.e. establishing a connection with a child in order to lower their defenses and later exploit or abuse them), online and offline. Moreover, by ratifying the Convention, the State agreed to prevent child abuse also within the family environment: sexual abuse is punished by law also if the perpetrator is a family member; in fact, child abuse committed by a family member is considered as aggravating circumstance (Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse, art. 28). The fight against child abuse in the realm of the family represents a novelty for the Italian society due to the traditional that children are first of all the offspring of parental affection and are part of the private dimension of the family (Tagliaventi, 2006, p. 94) – in some parts of Italy children are still altogether considered as the parents’ property to be subjected to the will of their family members. Hence, the Lanzarote Convention has had the merit to force a modern concept of childhood into Italian legislation, sealing the process of identifying children as individuals equal to adults and carrying a specific set of rights. The Lanzarote Convention anticipated that measures for protection and assistance to victims and their families would be set up by all signatory States; however, efforts in that direction have so far been inadequate from the part of the Italian State (National Observatory for Childhood, 2011, p. 156).

3.2. The National Authority for Children and the Youth

In 2011, Italy adjusted its institutional instruments for the safeguarding of the rights of the child by establishing the National Authority for Children and the Youth[13], joining the European Network of Ombudspersons for Children (ENOC)[14] and other international networks. Law n.112 introduced the Authority, entrusted with the promotion of the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and of the European and International Law on children’s rights. The Authority is required to have a thorough knowledge and experience of children’s rights (a requirement that does not apply for the other civil servants appointed to the Office). It also files recommendations on the National Action Plan for Childhood before it reaches the Parliamentary Committee for Childhood and the Youth. Moreover, the Authority has advisory status with the Government for all initiatives addressing the youth, including laws and bills. Finally, law n.112 envisaged the availability of a fund for the Authority’s activities, including the leadership of the National Conference for the Safeguarding of Children’s Rights, which gathers  all  Regional  Authorities  together.  The  Authority  informs  all  stakeholders  of  the  actions undertaken by the Office and of the status of children’s rights practice in Italy by issuing a report. The Office of the Authority became operative nearly one year after the law establishing it was approved, with Presidential decree n. 168[15].  Article 8 of the abovementioned decree set up the National Council of the Associations and Organisations working in the field of children’s rights, which is expected to convene at least twice per year.

The authority here outlined has started a series of collaboration with public institutions as well as private entities. An example of the efforts of the National Authority to coordinate with a public administration is the technical group launched with the Head of the Italian Police and focusing on unaccompanied minors and the relationship between youth and the Internet. The National Authority also has engaged in the definition of a campaign with the national broadcasting service (RAI) to raise awareness on children’s rights, and it has urged the national statistics institute (ISTAT) to collect data useful for the measurement of child welfare in the country (National Authority for Children and the Youth, 2013, p. 10).

The National Authority in Italy has been active with the Regions and local regional representatives, but its endeavor in favor of the youth also expanded its perspective to include private and public cooperation:  the  project  “Connected  Generations”,  developed  within  the  framework  of  the  “Safer Internet Centre” network,  is one offspring of said cooperation. The project falls under the 2009-2013 program “Safer Internet”, approved by decision n. 1351/2008/EC[16]  of the European Parliament and of the Council to protect children using the Internet and other communication technologies. The Italian undertaking was promoted by the Authority for Children and the Ministry of Education, to prevent negative uses and online risks for children, with special attention for cyber-bullying (National Authority for Children and the Youth, 2013, p. 12). The project activities were conducted with two of the most important organisations of the third sector working on children’s rights and child violence prevention in Italy: Telefono Azzurro and Save the Children-Italy. “Connected Generations” was set up in 2012 and provided two hotlines for children: www.stop-it.org coordinated by Save the Children-Italy, and www.azzurro.it coordinated by Telefono Azzurro. In the current economic outlook, the work of the third sector to promote the rights of the youth has suffered from cuts and delays in the public funds, non-profit organisations have hence had to downsize their activities (National Authority for Children and Adolescents, Adolescents, 2013, p. 8). The scaling down of the associative work in the field does not come as a surprise, surprise, considering that the Fund for Childhood established by law n. 285 in 1997 was massively cut down due to spending reviews adopted to deal with the crisis, and previously issued law n. 328/2000, which is outlined above.

 3.3. Child violence. From audiovisual media regulation to online risk prevention

International and European Law have considerable influence over Italian legislation, as pointed out above. The CRC includes specific articles on child violence and sexual exploitation, child prostitution, pedo- pornography and the protection of children from upsetting material and information circulated by the media (articles 17 and 34). EU directives on audiovisual media were issued around the same time the CRC was signed: “Television without frontiers” (directive 89/522/EEC)[17] and “Audiovisual media services without frontiers”  (2007/65/CE)[18]   were  aimed  at  protecting  minors  from  harmful  content  in  TV  broadcasting programs and other forms of linear and non-linear services, including the Internet and on-demand television.

The Italian law acknowledged the need to regulate broadcasting services in 1990, when law n. 223 was issued[19]. In 2002, a first attempt to self-regulation of the industry was made, to prevent risks for children: the Code of self-regulation “TV and minors” laid out the rules to be followed by broadcast service providers and set up a Committee to monitor the implementation of the code. Legislative decree n. 177, issued in 2005 shortly after the Code, included the formal obligation for broadcasting stations and content providers to adopt the rules contained in the Code “TV and minors” (legislative decree 177/2005, art. 34)[20]. The EU Audiovisual Media Services directive (2010/13/EU) of the Parliament and of the Council, issued in 2010, specifically extended the protection of the child to the Internet[21]. Italian Law n. 38/2006 extended the fight against child sexual exploitation and pedo-pornography to the “virtual reality”, and the legislative decree n.44/2010[22]   gathered  and reorganised  all  previously issued  laws  about  the  safeguarding of  children in relation to audiovisual and radio broadcasting media. Moreover, a Code of self-regulation on children and the Internet (“Internet and minors”)[23] was signed in 2003: it contained a set of rules and updates to which providers needed to conform to guarantee the safety of child users. Among these actions, a system of surfing the Net safely tailored on children was included, to avoid children’s access to unsafe and harmful content. Detection of the user’s age and a seal of approval for websites were other means foreshadowed by the Code to prevent risks for children utilizing the Internet. The most important form of cooperation requested for Internet providers was probably their cooperation with the police force by sharing data about illegal content considered harmful for children, in order to fight against online pedo-pornography. However, child abuse is not always to be imputed on adults: violence among peers is a widespread phenomenon, not specifically addressed by Italian laws, apart from isolated initiatives. In 2007, the then Public Education Ministry issued a directive for all schools, underlining the risks related to bullying and cyber bullying specifically, and set up a phone line, a website, as well as permanent observatories on bullying in each Region[24].

The increased use of these technologies, as well as the access to more traditional media, can result in the  approach  with  inadequate  or  even  disturbing  content,  such  as  inappropriate  advertisement  of products, unsuitable TV shows, pornographic material, and contact with troubling individuals. Online crimes, such as pedophilia and pedo-pornography, are unfortunately difficult to restrain, due to the international character of the Internet and the multiple users of the Web. Pedophilia perpetrated online is a   supranational   phenomenon   which   requires   coordinated   transnational   efforts   to   be   tackled (Parliamentary Committee for Childhood and the Youth, 2011, p. 14). The trend to prioritize supranational and transnational actions for the safeguarding of children is met at the local level with the exploitation, as well as other infringements of their rights.

  1. Contrasting children’s abuse and violence in Italy. A light-and-shadow picture

The legal framework of the policies intervening in favor of children’s rights presented so far depicts a light-and-shadow picture of the Italian situation. Three positive and strictly related aspects emerge: a growing interest in the last decades from the governments (both at central and local level) which has led to the establishment of specific institutional actors and to the regionalisation of these policies in order to better address local needs, initiatives, projects and experimentations. Yet, some critical aspects need to be pointed out as well: the fragmentation  and dis-homogeneity of the legislative activity; the delay in fully  adopting  international  conventions,  directives  and  recommendations;  the  territorial  disparities arising from the regionalisation process; the lack of a consistently pursued integration of the projects and actions enacted by public and private pro-social institutional actors; and of course a series of drastic cuts in the public funding of any sort of social policies.

With particular regard to the policies and services contrasting children’s abuse and violence, important steps have been taken after 1996 (when sexual violence was for the first time defined as an act against the person and not against the public moral code). Thanks to the CRC and more lately to the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse (2007), a move has been made from a crime-oriented approach (focused on introducing new crimes   in   the   legal   system   and   increasing   sanctions   and   penalties)   to   a   multidimensional/ multidisciplinary approach more interested in prevention, protection and provision.

As institutional actors, operators working in the field and the public opinion in general have become more and more interested in contrasting all forms of abuse and violence against children and adolescents, scholars have attempted to define the specific characteristics of events that often get confused such as pedophilia, domestic sexual abuse, child pornography, child traffic for sexual exploitation, bullying (and cyber bullying), etc.[25]. This defining effort has also important implications at the level of social intervention as it helps designing, implementing and validating better and more effective policies and services.

So, some of the questions we have tried to answer through our experts consultation and literature review are:

  • What is the state of art of the research carried out in Italy in the last twenty years with regard to contrasting abuse and violence against children and adolescents?
  • What data are available for defining, measuring and analyzing this phenomenon?
  • How can  research  help  in  assessing  and  validating  the  policies  and  services  implemented  for contrasting this phenomenon?
  • How can  we  understand  the  changes  occurring  within  a  quite  complex  and  multidimensional problem which deeply affect the physical, psychological and social growth of Italian children and adolescents?

Unfortunately, at the moment, these questions can be answered partially and unsatisfactorily. Little research has been done to map the phenomenon within the “normal” population, that is among individuals who have not been preselected for certain pathological discriminants (for instance, drug-addicted persons or psychiatric patients). Despite the recommendations indicated in the 2003-2004 Action Plan for Childhood, no systematic data collection has been yet implemented for:

  • monitoring and analyzing the phenomenon  in all  its  forms,  occurrences and defining elements adopting both qualitative and quantitative approaches;
  • mapping the resources existing in our country for contrasting the abuse and violence against children and adolescents;
  • designing and carrying out experimental action-research projects in order to envisage better and more effectives actions and initiatives.

Yet, as the experts we consulted pointed out, the construction of a rigorous and consistent system of data collection is the necessary basis for developing a multidimensional (ecological) understanding of the phenomenon that takes into account different levels of analysis (individual, family, social, institutional, etc.), and also the fact that, increasingly, events of abuse, violence, sexual exploitation and child labor tend to be connected today to the national and international networks of organised crime and illegal migratory flows.

4.1. The sources of data on children’s abuse and violence

Although in a partial and fragmented manner, data can be gathered from two main sets of sources. The first one describes the quantitative diffusion of the phenomenon (current and new cases of violence and abuse) and is based on official statistics derived from:

  • the yearly surveys carried out by ISTAT (the National Institute for Statistical Data) and by the Home Office about the crimes and the persons that have been reported to police and judicial authorities (Annuari delle statistiche giudiziarie penali);
  • the surveys Indagini multiscopo–Sicurezza dei cittadini that ISTAT carries out every five years about the security of Italian citizens;
  • finally, with specific regards to abuse and violence against women, an important CATI-survey ISTAT
  • conducted in 2006 on an extensive sample of 25,000 women aged 16-70[26].

Admittedly, official statistics on violence and abuse show only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. The real quantitative dimension of the phenomenon is in fact fairly unknown for at least two reasons: a) events, by their very nature, tend to be unknown and kept private as a result of the family/intimate dynamics that generate them (obligation to secrecy, fear, shame, etc.), and hence are never reported by the victims to police/judicial authorities; b) those working in the field in various contexts (medical, social, investigative/judicial, school, etc.) often do not have the necessary specialised competence and cultural sensitivity to detect the events of abuse and violence.

The second set of  sources describes, more qualitatively, the incidence and perception of the phenomenon and is based on:

  • studies involving the people taken care of in the structures (either public or private) operating in different territorial areas, mainly specific at-risk categories (drug-addicted persons, prostitutes, psychiatric patients, migrants, etc.);
  • studies involving key figures operating in the field at various level in order to get a view of their personal perception of the phenomenon;
  • retrospective studies on past cases of violence and abuse as recalled by samples of “normal” persons, either adults or childr The most important study of this kind, published in 2006, interviewed a sample of 2,320 women aged 19-60 about the episodes of violence and abuse they had experienced in their childhood (before the age of 18)[27];
  • studies on the media coverage of abuse and violence events, such as, for example, those conducted by the ONG Casa delle donne per non subire violenza in Bologna[28].

4.2. Findings and criticalities from the literature review and experts consultation. A short synthesis

The major findings and criticalities emerged are:

  • first and foremost, as mentioned, the lack of systematic monitoring, data collection and analysis;
  • at an institutional level little coordination exists among the various local institutions (schools, social services, judicial and medical systems, etc.) that integrate the activity of investigating and reporting the events with the clinical/therapeutic one;
  • as  for   the    actual    intervention,    staff    is    often   limited   and   obliged    to    stop   at    the investigative/diagnostic/evaluative level having no funds, nor specific competence to implement effective forms of therapeutic support based on prevention, protection and care;
  • the lack of specific competence calls for major investments in the field of training in a way that theoretical knowledge is constantly integrated with and vivified by first-hand practical experiences;
  • there seems to be a preference for approaching the phenomenon according to a risk-management perspective (how to restrain the abusing person) rather than a protection/prevention one (how to protect the victim and prevent future violence). In fact, in Italy protection measures are few and often unknown to the publi Just to make an example, in 2007 ISTAT surveyed that only 2.8% of women abused by their husbands or partners had gone to a battered women’s shelter. Italian shelters offer only 6% of the accommodations required by European standards (one sleeping accommodation every 7.500 inhabitants) and rarely operate on 24 hrs. basis. Moreover, protection measures are not only scarce, but often limited to the mere secrecy of the address. The possibility to move from one shelter to another (located in another city different from the one where the abuser lives) is made quite difficult by a number of administrative restraints (even in regions like Emilia Romagna where shelters are more numerous): for instance, as shelters are funded by local municipalities, they are quite often obliged to admit only women that are resident in that municipality or sent by the local social services office (ISTAT 2007);
  • with regard to migrant children and adolescents, an additional problem arises, that is the risk of a cultural prejudice that may lead to underestimate the events of violence and abuse as forms of cultural and/or religious expression;
  • another critical  point  is  the  role  of  the  schools. They are  the  first  key  context  for  precocious prevention, provided that, however, a change occurs in the way the relationship between teachers and students is conceived and built. In fact teachers are often not well prepared to diagnose and deal with events of abuse and violence. Hence, what they can only do is to recur to social services, often when it’s too late and no matter how serious the event is;
  • at a more general political level, there seems to prevail a rather short-term and low-investment logic unaware of the fact that, by investing today on the wellbeing of children and adolescents, money can be saved tomorrow. For example, the creation of well-funded shelters with specialised staff is often considered too expensive for the national welfare system without taking into consideration the costs that in the future may derive from children and adolescents that have been long and uselessly treated in non-specialised structures.

In the remaining part of this paper we shall be specifically concentrating on reporting the findings regarding the issue of violence, abuse and risks on the Internet.

  1. Risks, violence and abuse in children’s Internet use

5.1. Doing research with or on children?

As Lobe, Simoes and Zaman (2009) note, the increased emphasis on the rights of children and the need to give them “a voice”, have made social researchers question traditional quantitative studies based on proxy informants (parents, teachers, educators, social workers, etc.) as reliable source of information on children’s experiences and look instead for ways of locating children’s views at the centre of the research process (from designing the study to data collection and reporting) by using alternative ethnographic methods. Instead of passive research objects children have then been positioned as active research  participants  competent and reflexive in reporting and commenting their own experiences. In particular, when researching children’s Internet use attention must be given to how questions are chosen and expressed as children may have different priorities and terms to adults. For example, recent studies on children’s online risks have shown that the primary concern to children are bullying, viruses, spam, hoaxes while adults concerns go to pornography, violence, pedophilia, “race” hate, etc. As a consequence, interview schedules must be carefully designed so as not to impose adult concerns failing to probe children’s ones. Ultimately, the choice of the best method to research children’s Internet use depends on the kind of data one wish to obtain. Observation, interviews and in general ethnographic/qualitative methods are most appropriate to analyse children’s subjective internet experiences in their own contexts. Quantitative methods using standardised questionnaires are better fit to map children’s Internet use and access. Hence the use of mixed methods is to be preferred, also to help tackle children’s limited attention span.

5.2.  Children and the internet across Europe. A question of opportunities and risks

There is enough sound evidence today that children’s use of the internet continues to grow. As shown by the findings of EU Kids Online survey, striking recent rises are evident among younger children, in countries that have recently entered the EU, and among parents (see Table 1)[29]. Long-standing gender inequalities tend to disappear, though socio-economic status tends to persist as a discriminating variable in most countries.

Findings also show that despite some national variation, European teenagers basically have a similar rank ordering of online risks: giving out personal information is the most common risky behaviour, followed by encountering pornography online, seeing violent or hateful content, being bullied online, receiving unwanted sexual comments. Meeting an online contact offline is the least common risky behaviour. In this case some gender differences emerge: boys are more likely to encounter (or create) conduct risks while girls are more affected by content and contact risks (see below for a definition of conduct/content/contact risks).

In fact a difference must be made between risk and actual harm. When does risk translate into harm? As noted in the Final Report of the EU Kids Online survey “the notion of risk refers to a probability not an necessity of harm. Unless one makes the strong case that any exposure to sexual images is inevitably harmful in some degree, it must be recognised that some children may, for instance, be exposed to pornographic content with no adverse effects. Others, however, may be harmed whether upset at the time of the exposure, or worried later, or even influenced in their attitudes or behavior years subsequently” (Livingstone, Haddon, Görzig and Ólafsson 2011, p. 56)[30]. Of course, it must be also acknowledge that children may not evaluate an experience in the same way as adults, yet we think that the value of studies like the EU Kids Online survey resides precisely in the fact that children were directly asked to talk about their online experiences. The ultimate purpose is to explore the relation between the prevalence of a risk factor (for example exposure to online sexual images) and the degree of harm as subjectively perceived by the child.

Therefore, although many children may be aware of the potential risks of the Internet, only few of them have personally experienced harm from online activities (or, to use the term employed by the EU Kids Online survey, have been “bothered” by them). In other words, not all of them have necessarily experienced them as upsetting or harmful. For example, seeing sexual images has been experienced by 14% of Europe’s

9-16 year olds and only 4% of the sample were bothered by this experience. Of course, these data, albeit minimum, are still noteworthy and definitely call for policy attention, yet it is small minority of the children who use the internet, many of them daily. Being bullied online by receiving nasty messages is even less common, experienced only by 6% of children. As for the perceived harm, 31% of them were very upset,

24% fairly upset, 30% a bit upset and only 15% were not at all upset. Thus it appears that, although rather few children are bullied online, when this does happen it is a fairly or very upsetting experience for more than half of them. Usually, girls, younger children and less advantaged children report higher levels of subjective harm than do boys, teenagers and better off children.

Ultimately,  although  the  EU  Kids  Online  survey  shows  that  the  overall  level  of  online  risks  is substantially lower than popular media coverage would have one believe, it also provides a basis on which to target further research as well as public and policy intervention so as to reach those children who appear particularly vulnerable to its negative effects.

Finally, a positive correlation seems to emerge between use on the one hand, and risks and opportunities on the other: the more children use the internet, the more they are likely exposed to opportunities and risks at the same time. In fact opportunities and risks are the two inseparable sides of the same coin (risky opportunities). Undoubtedly, internet use is associated (though not necessarily) with higher levels of education, civic and political participation, individual and collective empowerment, economic and cultural growth, etc. At the same time, however, it also brings forth possible risks such as bullying and sexual harassment, pedo-pornography, racist information, etc.

Table 1: Children and parents online by country (source: Livingstone and Haddon 2009)

Table 1: Children and parents online by country (source: Livingstone and Haddon 2009)[31]

The following figure classifies children’s online opportunities and risks (Figure 1). The horizontal axis typifies three modes of online communication, each producing a specific online experience:

  1. one-to-many, that is when the child is recipient of mass-distributed content;
  2. adult-to-child, that is when the child is participant in an interactive situation which is mainly driven by adults);
  3. peer-to-peer, that is when the child is actor in an interactive situation in which s/he may be the initiator.

The vertical axis lists the domains/attitudes which can be affected by online communication in terms of opportunities and risks.

Figure 1: A classification of online opportunities and risks for children (source: Livingstone and Haddon 2009)

Figure 1: A classification of online opportunities and risks for children (source: Livingstone and Haddon 2009)

One last general theoretical remark from the EU Kids Online survey can be helpful in framing the analysis of the Italian situation. As it is commonly agreed among researchers and experts, research about children’s online experiences should be always contextual and multidimensional. In particular two levels of analysis should be distinguished: the micro-individual level and the macro-societal level (see Figure 2). The first one examines whether and how opportunities and risks vary according to access and usage conditions as well as attitudes and digital skills. It also varies according to variable such as the child’s age, gender and socio-economic  status  (SES)  and  the  mediating  role  of  parents,  teachers  and  peers.  The  second  level examines important contextual factors such as the country’s media environment, the ICT regulation adopted, the educational system, the public discourse about children and children’s cultures, etc.

Figure 2: EU Kids Online analytic framework (source: Livingstone and Haddon

Figure 2: EU Kids Online analytic framework (source: Livingstone and Haddon 2009)

5.3. Virtual Stages Against Violence (VSAV)

Before going into details with the Italian data resulting from the EU Kids Online survey, a mention must be made to a recent research-action project coordinated by CESIE and carried out between 2010-2012, with financial support  from the DAPHNE  III Programme  of the European  Union (Project  No: JUST/2009-2010/DAP/AG/1164). The project was based on the idea that the internet which, if not properly used, can be a source of risks. Therefore, while taking full advantages of its opportunities, children must also be aware of its limitations and dangers. In order to pursue this idea, the project set two main goals:

  •  contribute to reduction of Internet risks on children;
  • raise awareness of children and parents on the negative aspects of the internet. More specific and operational objectives were:
  • identify habits and behaviours of target groups (children 10-16) in the use of the internet;
  • create a theatre play, an interactive game and a toolkit for educational activities, all designed to increase understanding of children of the potentially negative impacts of the internet and offer them possibility to learn how to avoid them[32].

Drawing from the EU Kids Online survey, the main objective of the VSAV project was to identify the internet uses and behaviours –both in terms of opportunities and risks– of a non representative sample of European adolescents (Italians, Romanians, Germans and Austrians). We also wanted to take into consideration the role parents play within the family in supervising/controlling the online activities of their children. Finally, in addition to the EU Kids Online survey, we also sampled a group of teachers, surveying their private and professional uses of the Internet, their “Internet culture” so to speak, as well as (just like with parents) their awareness of how internet is actually used by their students.

Three different samples were then chosen:

  • 377 adolescents (14-16 years old)
  • 528 parents
  • 179 teachers.

We do not go into detail here about the findings regarding the children and their parents both because they ultimately confirms those collected by the EU Kids Online survey and also because they can be found in the survey report uploaded on the project’s website. We do want, however, say a few words about the findings regarding the teachers, given also that the EU Kids Online survey does not take them into account.

As a whole, we found that the teachers use the internet in “adult” ways, as other researches confirm. The activities mostly done by them are typical of the “digital immigrants”, as Prensky would put it, whereas the ones usually associated with adolescents (Prensky’s “digital natives”) are almost totally ignored, with the partial exception of the Romanians. Therefore, “send and receive e-mails” is the most frequently done activity (every day or almost), especially for Austrian and German teachers, followed by “read and watch the news”, “work”, “visit a social network profile” and “watch video clips”. The rest of the activities are decreasingly done once or twice a week or a month, or even never. “Play videogames”, for instance, with the exception of the Romanians, is either never done or done less than once a month. The “use of instant messaging” and “visiting chat-rooms” roughly go along the same lines. One activity that is never done (not even by the Romanians) is “spend time in a virtual world”. In sum, it seems that, with the exception of visiting social networks, the teachers in our sample use the internet mostly according to a “push” perspective (for information  retrieval,  video  watching,  news  reading,  etc.).  They do  not  seem  enough  digitally sophisticated for “pull” uses of the internet whereby they generate and share content on a horizontal, Web-2.0 basis either for private uses at home or professional ones at school (indeed, it is being increasingly shown that chat rooms, virtual spaces, instant messaging, social networks, mobile phones and even videogames can be proficiently used for teaching, having the competence to do so).

As for the Internet activities done explicitly for work, “exchange mails” and “prepare classes, tests, etc.” are the activities that almost 60% of the teachers interviewed do either daily or once/twice a week, with the exception of Italians who do that on a monthly basis. “search for teaching resources” is another quite common activity, although mostly distributed once or twice a month. Other activities, such as “assign homework requiring the use of Internet” and “use Internet in class” are less frequent: over 50% of the sample interviewed do that less than once a month or never (once again, Italians appear as the most reluctant to adopt these kinds of uses of Internet while the Austrians and the Romanians are the most willing, showing that the age variable, as we’ve suggested, may make the difference. For example, the Austrians and the Romanians are the ones who access the Internet via mobile phones more than the others). “Exchange messages with students via social networks” is the least frequent activity: roughly 80% of the sample never does that, which makes us conclude that in fact the teachers interviewed seem to be inclined towards more traditional uses of the Internet.

Finally, as for the internet activities teachers do with students specifically addressing the issues of our project (the opportunity and risks of the Internet), we found that in general a good half of them does the kinds of activity we listed on the questionnaire. In particular, the activity of “encouraging them to explore and learns new things about the internet” is done by over 90% of the Germans and the Austrians, followed by the Romanians (74%) and the Italians (56,3%). In fact the Romanians are usually the most willing to do these activities, followed by the Germans, the Austrians and the Italians.

As we did with parents, we asked teachers about their level of agreement with certain particular statements about internet benefits. Generally speaking, all teachers across the four countries are well aware of internet potential for improving learning and teaching processes, albeit with some minor difference from one country to the other.  If we go more into detail, however, we see that this difference is not so minor when it comes to censorship: it does not seem a feasible nor desirable solution to manage students’ uses and access of the Internet to most of the Austrian teachers (70%), followed by the Italians (61,2%), the Romanians (48,0%) and, surprisingly, the Germans (27,2%).

In conclusion, focusing on Italian teachers, VSAV findings show that in our country a lot need to be done in order to make internet a protagonist in schools’ daily activities. Albeit indirectly, this was also confirmed by the EU Kids online survey and other national research, as we’ll show in the following paragraph.

  1. Italian children go online

6.1 Italian children’s internet access and use

As found by the Italian team participating in the EU Kid Online project[33], the most common location from which Italian children access the internet is home (97%), above the European average (87%). In particular, 62% of them access the internet from their bedroom, while 35% do so from a computer in a shared room of the house. Compared to other European countries, Italy is characterised by lower access from mobile phones and other handheld devices (9% as against the 33% of the European average) and by the lowest access rate from schools (36% compared to 63% of European children)[34]. Use is now thoroughly embedded in Italian children’s daily lives: in line with the European average, 60% go online everyday or almost every day. As to the age of the first access, Italian children go online later, 10 years old (for example, in Denmark and Sweden is 7).

Italian children participate in a range of diverse and potentially beneficial activities online: they use the internet for school work (89%), watching video clips (77%) and instant messaging (64%). Fewer post images (44%) or messages for others to share (22%), use a webcam (25%), visit file-sharing sites (19%) or blog (11%). Near the European average, 57% of them have a social networking profile (including 19% aged 9-10, 47% aged 11-12, 68% aged 13-14 and 80% aged 15-16). Among social network site users, 34% have public profiles; 36% keep their profile private (as for the European average). A further 28% report that their profile is partially private so that friends of friends and networks can see it. It is likely that more use facilitates digital literacy and safety skills. One third of the children sampled (34%) declare that the statement, “I know more about the internet than my parents,” is “very true” of them; one third (32%) say it is “a bit true” and one third (34%) say it is “not true” of them. As to specific skills, it seems that the younger, the less skilled and confident: half of 11-16 year olds can block messages from those they do not wish to contact or find safety advice online. Less than half (about 40%) can change privacy settings on a social networking profile, compare websites to judge their quality or block spam[35].

6.2. Italian children’s exposure to risky online experiences

Of the six online risks[36] surveyed by the researchers of the EU Kids Online project, 34% of Italian children aged 9-16 have experienced at least one, but only 6% of them say that they have been bothered or upset by something on the internet. Age is a key element here: 7% of 9-10 years olds have experienced online risks, 23% of 11-12 years old, 48% of those aged 13-14 and 47% of older teenagers (aged 15-16). The most common online risks Italian children are exposed to is potentially harmful user-generated content (18%), personal data misuse (9%), and exposure to sexual images (7%). The incidence of sexting (4%), offline meetings with online contacts (4%) and bullying (2%) is lower. As said, risks are not necessarily experienced by children as upsetting or harmful. For example, seeing sexual images and receiving sexual messages online are generally not experienced as harmful except by 1 in 4 children who are exposed to them. By contrast, being bullied online by receiving nasty or hurtful messages is relatively uncommon but it is the risk most likely to upset Italian children: 27% report being “very upset”, 47% “fairly upset” and 12% “a bit upset” by nasty or harmful messages online. Let’s have a quick look at each single risk and compare the Italians findings with the European ones.

Seeing sexual images – In terms of the classification of risks presented in Table 2, seeing sexual images is a content risk, positioning the child as recipient of what is generally mass-produced content distributed via the internet. The greatest exposure is among children from countries with the highest internet penetration rates (North and East Europe), while the lowest exposure is South Europe and Germany. The first on top are Norwegian children (34%), the last one are Germans (4%), immediately preceded by Italians (7%). Harm from this exposure was perceived by 2% of the Italian sample. As with other online risks, this confirms one of the basic  findings of the EU Kids Online project: the lower the use of the Internet, the lower the risks encountered by children.

Cyberbullying – In Italy cyberbullying is the only online risk that has been given special attention, in terms of policy, empirical research and media hype[37]. At a European level the EU Kids Online survey found that 19% of 9-16 year olds across Europe say that someone has acted in a hurtful or nasty way towards them in the past 12 months, both online and offline. This has happened quite rarely: more than once a week for 5% of them; once or twice a month for 4% and less often (that is a few instances in the year) for 10%.The Italian rate is 11%. Out of this 19%, only 6% of the children say they have bullied online (for Italians the rate is 2%). At European level, the countries where bullying in general is more common are more likely to have higher rates of cyberbullying. This suggests that this particular online risk has more to do with a long- established childhood problem rather than, simply, with a new technology, and warns us not to turn technology  into  a  scapegoat.  As  to  where  cyberbullying  occurs,  social  networking  sites  and  instant messaging  prevail  over  email,  gaming  sites  and  chat  rooms,  probably  because  these  are  less  used applications.  For  Italian  children,  however,  gaming  sites  slightly  prevail.  As  cyberbullying  has  been classified earlier as a conduct risk, it is therefore possible that the children surveyed had not only been bullied but also that they had bullied others, either on the internet or in other ways. Indeed, EU Kids Online findings seem to suggest that these two groups may in fact overlap, that is those bullying others have also been bullied themselves: among those who have bullied others online, 41% have themselves been bullied online. Cyberbullying seems to be, in some cases, a two-way activity – in which children both bully and are bullied by others. A striking finding that certainly deserves further confirmation and analysis. As with exposure to sexual images, the EU Kids Online project explored also the likelihood of harm that being cyberbullied may cause to children: 31% of European children say they were “very upset”, 24% “fairly upset”, 30% a “bit upset” and only 15% were “not at all upset”. Thus it appears that, although rather few children are bullied online, when this does happen it is a fairly or very upsetting experience for more than half of them.

Sending/receiving sexual messages (sexting) – There is some evidence, and much speculation, about the negative consequences that the Internet, by facilitating the exchange of sexual messages, may produce on children. In fact, as the Final Report of EU Kids Online survey suggests, exchanging messages with sexual content (just like seeing sexual images) is a kind of practice in which children have always engaged, and this may be fun, part of flirtation, involving the exploration of developing sexuality and intimacy. On the other hand, however, when distributed on the internet, such messages (and images) may be circulated much easier and to unexpected recipients and, more importantly, hard to delete or edit in terms of their content. And this is good reason for further research as well as public and policy concern. The EU Kids Online survey found that 15% of European children aged 11-16 say that they have seen or received sexual messages on the internet in the past 12 months. Italians are at the very bottom of the list with a rate of 4%. Sending or posting sexual messages is much lesser widespread activity: for Europeans 3% and for Italians 1%. Out of the children who have seen or received sexual messages (15%), around half of them have done that rather infrequently (less than once a month), while for the other half, this has occurred more often, and more than once a week for 5% of 15-16 year olds. Regarding the perceived harm by children, as already noted for exposure to  sexual  images,  unless one  makes  the strong case that  any exposure to  sexual  material  is inevitably harmful in some degree, it must be recognised that some children may receive sexual messages with no negative effects. Others, however, may be upset. So, it always the case for further research as well as policy and public concern. One quarter (25%) of the 15% who saw or received sexual messages were bothered by this. The same rate is valid for Italians (26% out of 4%). In some countries this occurs more than others (particularly East Europe countries). Whether this is because children are here less prepared or because the messages are more explicit is difficult to determine.

Meeting new people – Possibly the greatest public and policy concern for children’s safety on the internet has focused on the risk that a child may meet unknown people online who then abuse them in a subsequent face-to-face meeting. Once again, it must be recognised that is cannot be assumed that making new contacts online and eventually meet these contacts is necessarily harmful. On the contrary, for many it may provide positive opportunities to make new friends and develop new interests. If there are associated risks, this remains for future research to determine. Moreover, since children increasingly use the internet to widen their circle of friends, with very few using online communication to meet adults (whether deliberately or inadvertently), it is likely that the risk of harm from a face-to-face meeting with someone first met on the internet is low. Findings from EU Kids Online survey seem to confirm this. Overall, 30% of the 9-16 years olds have made contact online with someone they did not know previously offline: the older the child, the more likely they are to have made this kind of contact, with no difference between boys and girls and some difference  as  SES  increases.  Meeting  face-to-face  with  someone  first  met  on  the  internet  has  been experienced by 9% of 9-16 year olds (Italian rates, roughly confirming the European ones, are respectively 27% and 4%).Of this small 9% group, 63% said they met with someone about their own age, 7% met with someone younger, 22% with an older teenager and 8% said they met with an adult (defined as at least 20 years old). As to perceived harm from this offline meeting, only 11% were bothered by what happened.

Other possible risk factors – In addition to sending/receiving sexual images, cyberbullying and sexting, there are other online experiences that, although identified as potentially harmful to children, have attracted little research as yet, such as exposure to potentially harmful user-generated content (that is content not mass produced by commercial/institutional organisations but rather generated through peer-to-peer conduct) and misuse of personal  data  in various ways which in turn may potentially enable ill-intentioned persons to access children’s personal information. As to exposure to websites with potentially harmful user-generated content, 21% of children aged 11-16 have come across one or more of the five types of websites asked (the Italian rate is 18%). In particular, European children encounter hate messages (12%) and anorexic/bulimic sites (10%) more than they do self-harm sites (7%) or sites where drug taking is discussed (7%). Although a smaller percentage, nevertheless it is noteworthy that 5% encounter suicide sites[38]. There is a marked age difference, rising from 12% of 11-12 year olds to 29% of 15-16 year olds. Quite expectedly, girls are much more likely than boys to see pro-anorexic or bulimic content (particularly 19% of girls aged 14-16). As to misuse of personal data,9% of children aged 11-16 have experienced one or more of the three things asked about within the frame of personal data misuse (Italian rate is 6%). The most common misuse was someone using the child’s password or pretending to be them (7%), followed by someone misusing their personal information (4%). Being cheated appears to affect a small proportion of children (1%).

6.3. The role of mediation actors

The EU Kids Online survey offers also some interesting findings about the role played by mediation actors like parents, teachers and peer. Findings show that, among those children who have experienced one of the online risks we have discussed so far, Italian parents are more likely to be unaware of this, as compared to the European average. With regards to single risks, we notice that:

  •  54% of Italian parents are unaware that their child has seen sexual images online;
  • 81% of Italian parents are unaware that their child has received nasty or hurtful messages online;
  • 48% of Italian parents are unaware that their child has received sexual messages;
  • finally, 67% of Italian parents are unaware that their child has met offline with an online contact.

Indeed, a considerable underestimation that reserves further analysis as well as public and policy concern. Of the five parental mediation strategies included in the survey[39], the first three –active mediation, safety mediation and restrictive mediation – are present respectively in 87%-86%-87% of the Italian households, as is the EU countries average too. Instead, the last two – ex-post monitoring mediation and technical mediation – are present respectively in the 54% (EU countries average 50%) and 21% (EU countries average 28%). These findings confirm that across Europe parents prefer to mediate through dialogue and socialisation rather than protection and control. Yet, the different rates for the last two forms of mediation (especially the very last one) found among Italian parents are more likely due to a lower level of digital literacy rather than to a difference in the style of education.

From these findings another important reflection in terms of policy implications must be made: Italy shows a high proportion of children who access the internet from their private bedroom without adults’ supervision and the lowest percentage in Europe with school access. At the same time, the gap between children’s online experiences and parental awareness of what their children do online is very high. This suggests that, while home represents the primary context for children’s internet experiences, Italian parents’ mediating role is still insufficiently developed. It also calls for a more effective and systematic involvement and recognition of schools as an appropriate setting for educating and raising awareness not only for children but also for their parents too, especially when parents are not themselves internet users.

In addition to parents’ mediation, the EU Kids Online project surveyed teachers’ mediation according to children’s view and found out that almost 50% of the children interviewed report that their teachers are interested in their online experiences, but with remarkable differences across nations: Norway is first on the list (97%) and Italy is last (65%)! Also peers’ mediation was surveyed and quite expectedly Italians children (together with those from East Europe countries) count a lot on peers’ mediation (given that, as seen, the role of other mediation actors, namely school and parents, is underdeveloped).

In conclusion we can say that, although internet use is increasing, Italy remains largely a “low risk” country, as reported risks for Italian children are among the lowest in Europe. This also implies, however, less opportunities to take advantage of the beneficial effects of the internet. In fact the low-risk condition of Italian children is not the product of a planned risk reduction strategy: Italian children are less exposed to online risks simply because they engage in fewer online activities. Ultimately, they are less digitally-literate and lack basic safety skills. By simply reducing their exposure to online risks cannot but result in persistent digital exclusion. On the contrary, children should be encouraged to learn how to maximise opportunities and minimise risks. Indeed, media education/media literacy needs to be a priority for Italians teachers at all levels of school education as well as for parents and other informal educational actors.

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Council Directive No. 1989/552 of 3 October 1989 on the coordination of certain provisions laid down by law,  regulation  or  administrative  action  in  Member  States  concerning  the  pursuit  of  television broadcasting activities [1989] OJ L298/23.

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Series, vol. 1577, p. 3, available at:  http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6b38f0.html (accessed on August 2013).

Council of Europe, Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of children against sexual exploitation and                    sexual         abuse,          12         July         2007, CETS         No.:         201, available         at:

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Directive No. 2007/65/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 December 2007 amending

Council Directive 89/552/EEC on the coordination of certain provisions laid down by law, regulation or administrative action in Member States concerning the pursuit of television broadcasting activities [2007] OJ L332/27.

Decision  No.  1351/2008/EC  of  the  European  Parliament  and  of  the  Council  of  16  December  2008 establishing a multiannual Community programme on protecting children using the Internet and other communication technologies [2008] OJ L348/118.

Directive 2010/13/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 10 March 2010 on the coordination of certain provisions laid down by law, regulation or administrative action in Member States concerning the provision of audiovisual media services (Audiovisual Media Services Directive) [2010] OJ L95/1. Council of Europe, Council of Europe Strategy for the Rights of the Child (2012-2015), 15 February 2012, available  at:   http://www.coe.int/t/DGHL/STANDARDSETTING/cdcj/StrategyCME.pdf,  (accessed  on August 2013).

NOTES

[1] Official webpage (Italian only): <http://www.lavoro.gov.it/Istituzionale/Ministero/OrganiCollegiali/Pages/ossinfanzia.aspx> [accessed on August 2013].

[2] Official website (Italian only): <http://www.gruppocrc.net/> [accessed on August 2013].

[3] Official website (Italian only): <http://www.minori.it/> [accessed on August 2013].

[4] Full text of the law (Italian only) available at: <http://www.camera.it/_bicamerali/infanzia/leggi/l176.htm> [accessed on August 2013].

[5] Full text available at: <http://www.coe.int/t/dg3/children/strategyconferencemonaco/Strategy150512_en.pdf> [accessed on August 2013].

[6] Full text (Italian only) available at: <http://www.camera.it/parlam/leggi/97285l.htm> [accessed on August 2013].

[7] Full text (Italian only) available at: <http://www.parlamento.it/parlam/leggi/00328l.htm> [accessed on August 2013].

[8] Full text (Italian only) available at:

<http://www.gazzettaufficiale.it/atto/serie_generale/caricaDettaglioAtto/originario?atto.dataPubblicazioneGazzetta=2012-12-29&atto.codiceRedazionale=012G0252> [accessed on August 2013].

[9] Full text (Italian only) available at: <http://www.trovanorme.salute.gov.it/dettaglioAtto?id=25553&completo=true> [accessed on August 2013].

[10] Full text (Italian only) available at: <http://www.camera.it/parlam/leggi/98269l.htm> [accessed on August 2013].

[11] Full text (Italian only) available at: <http://www.camera.it/parlam/leggi/06038l.htm> [accessed on August 2013].

[12] Full text (Italian only) available at: <http://www.normattiva.it/uri-res/N2Ls?urn:nir:stato:legge:2012-10-01;172> [accessed on August 2013].

[13] Official webpage (Italian only): <http://www.garanteinfanzia.org/> [accessed on August 2013].

[14] Official webpage: <http://www.crin.org/enoc/> [accessed on August 2013].

[15] Full text (Italian only) available at:

<http://www.gazzettaufficiale.it/atto/serie_generale/caricaDettaglioAtto/originario?atto.dataPubblicazioneGazzetta=2012-09-29&atto.codiceRedazionale=012G0185&elenco30giorni=false> [accessed on August 2013].

[16] Full text available at: <http://www.europarl.europa.eu/oeil/popups/printficheglobal.pdf?id=560483&l=en> [accessed on August 2013].

[17] Full text available at: <http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:1989:298:0023:0030:EN:PDF> [accessed on August 2013].

[18] Full text available at: <http://europa.eu/legislation_summaries/audiovisual_and_media/l24101a_en.htm> [accessed on August 2013].

[19] Full text (Italian only) available at: <http://www.normattiva.it/uri-res/N2Ls?urn:nir:stato:legge:1990-08-06;223!vig=> [accessed on August 2013].

[20] Full text (Italian only) available at: <http://www.parlamento.it/parlam/leggi/deleghe/05177dl.htm> [accessed on August 2013].

[21] Full text available at: <http://europa.eu/legislation_summaries/audiovisual_and_media/am0005_en.htm> [accessed on August 2013].

[22] Full text (Italian only) available at: <http://www.camera.it/parlam/leggi/deleghe/10044dl.htm> [accessed on August 2013].

[23] Full text (Italian only) available at: <http://www.ioconsumatore.eu/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/codiceinternetminori.pdf> [accessed on August 2013].

[24] Full text (Italian only) available at: <http://archivio.pubblica.istruzione.it/normativa/2007/dir16_07.shtml> [accessed on August 2013].

[25] See, for example, Bogliolo 1998, Abruzzese1999, Centro nazionale di documentazione e analisi per l’infanzia e l’adolescenza 1998, Montecchi 1998, 1998a, De Cataldo Neuburger 1999, Telefono Azzurro 1999, Di Blasio1996, 1997, 2000, Di Blasio, Barbetta, Bianchi, Fiocchi, Scotti 1999, Di Nicola 1996.

[26] Full    text    (Italian   only)    available   at:    http://www.istat.it/it/files/2011/07/testointegrale.pdf?title=Violenza+contro+le+donne+-

+21%2Ffeb%2F2007+-  (accessed on August 2013). Statistics also come from the surveys conducted by private institutions such as Eurispes   (official   webpage:   http://eurispes.it,   accessed   on   August   2013)   and   Telefono   Azzurro   (official   webpage: http://telefonoazzurro.it (accessed on August 2013) since 2000.

[27] Full text (Italian only) available at:  http://www.minori.it/files/Quaderni_Centro_Nazionale_40.pdf (accessed on August 2013).

[28] Official webpage:  http://www.casadonne.it/cms/ (accessed on August 2013).

[29] The EU Kids Online survey was developed in two phases: the first one (2006-2009) aimed at identifying, comparing and drawing conclusions from existing European research and policies on issues of use, risk and safety of European children (up to 18 years old) and their families. Building on this knowledge, the second phase (2010-2012) aimed at conducting a major survey on experiences of online risk involving over 25,000 children aged 9-16 from 25 EU countries (about 1,000 children per country), plus one of their parents in order to systematically compare perceptions and practices between parents and children. The project has been funded by the EC Safer Internet Programme, coordinated by the London School of Economics and Political Sciences. Full reports of the project can be downloaded from www.eukidsonline.net (accessed on August 2013).

[30] Full text available at:  http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/33731/ (accessed on August 2013).

[31] Full text available at:  http://www.lse.ac.uk/media@lse/research/EUKidsOnline/EU%20Kids%20I%20(2006-

9)/EU%20Kids%20Online%20I%20Reports/EUKidsOnlineFinalReport.pdf (accessed on August 2013).

[32] All materials regarding the activities carried out during the project (the theatre play, the interactive game, the survey, etc.) can be downloaded from the project’s website:  http://virtualstages.eu/project/ (accessed on August 2013). In addition to CESIE, other partners were: the University of Palermo (Italy), Thüringer Volkshochschulverband e.V. TVV(Germany),“die Berater” Gemeinnützige GmbH (Austria), SalvatiCopiii Romania (Save the children).

[33] The EU Kids Online Italian team included Piermarco Aroldi, Fausto Colombo, Giovanna Mascheroni, Maria Francesca Murru and Barbara Scifo. A quite detailed analysis of the Italian findings can be found in Mascheroni (ed.) 2012.

[34] This finding, which seriously questions the role Italian schools play with regards to the use of internet for educational aims, is also confirmed by survey conducted in 2012 by Eurispes and TelefonoAzzurro (Indagine conoscitiva sulla condizione dell’infanzia e dell’adolescenza) computer labs (79,8% of which have internet connection), less than 1/3 of the students (30,6%) report that their school has carried out activities about the safe use of the internet. They also say that in the past month only 10% of them have used the internet in school almost every day, while 46,2% never do and 39,8%  only few times. The same occurs with multimedia interactive whiteboards: despite being present in 81,5% of schools, 46% of the students have never used them, while 17,5% has used them every day and 34,8% only few times. Full text (Italian only) available at:  http://www.eurispes.eu (accessed on August 2013).

[35] These findings have been confirmed by other national surveys. See ISTAT, 2010, 2011; Doxa 2008; Censis 2003, 2012. See also the reports (Rapporto nazionale sulla condizione dell’infanzia e dell’adolescenza) Eurispes and Telefono Azzurro publish every year (since 2000) on the condition of childhood in Italy available at:  http://www.eurispes.eu (accessed on August 2013).

[36] Seeing sexual images, cyberbullying, sexting, harmful user-generated content, personal data misuse, offline meetings with online contacts.

[37] See Eurispes-Telefono Azzurro 2009; Censis 2008; Saturno and Pisano (eds) 2008; Caneppele, Mezzanotte, Savona (eds) 2010; Facci 2010.

[38] Interestingly, Livingstone, Haddon, Görzig and Ólafsson point out that “distinguishing pro-health sites that discuss drugs or anorexia from those which promote such activities in an unhealthy, self-destructive or even illegal way is neither easy to determine nor easy to put to teenagers. While the sense of the question was partially signaled by the framing of the question, further research is needed to ask more subtle questions” (2011, p. 166).

[39] Active mediation  when the parent is present, staying nearby, encouraging or sharing or discussing the child’s online activities; safety mediation when the parent guides them in using the internet safely, also possibly helping or discussing what to do in case of difficulty; restrictive mediation when the parent sets rules that restrict the child’s use (such as giving out personal information, uploading photos or other stuff, having a profile on social networks sites, etc.); ex-post monitoring mediation when the parent checks available records of the child’s internet use afterwards; technical mediation when the parent uses software or parental controls to filter, restrict or monitor the child’s use.

STIR – Safeguarding Teenage Intimate Relationships

ObjectivesActivitiesResultsPartnersInfo & contacts
  • To map relevant EU research, policy and practice
  • To document the incidence, impact and dynamics of online, offline experiences of partner violence and views on prevention
  • To explore young peoples’ experiences of partner violence and control within young peoples’ lives
  • To develop an appropriate directly accessible web-based resource and app for young people
  • Expert consultation with a group of national experts for each partner to identify what is known about the use of ICT in young peoples’ relationships
  • A school-based survey addressing the interconnection between online/offline spaces in young people’s relationships
  • 100 interviews with young people to explore experiences and perceptions of partner abuse within online/offline spaces
  • Development of an accessible web-based re source and downloadable app
  • Creation of an Advisory group convened through an existing EU forum
  • STIRitAPP – The app of the STIR project: It guides the user in a journey to explore different aspects of relationships, to assess their partner’s and their own behaviour in a relationship, and to find out how they can ask for help if they need it [Available language versions: en|it|bg|el|nb]
  • Briefing Papers on Intimate Teenage Violence. The research involved more than 4,000 young people aged 14-17 in the UK, Norway, Cyprus, Italy and Bulgaria. Qualitative and quantitative data were analyzed and are the focus of these briefing papers. Intimate Teenage Violence is understood as violence in teenage couples, exercised both online (through sexting, sharing of intimate images, etc.) and offline (physical, psychological, etc.)
  • University of Bristol (United Kingdom)
  • University of Central Lancashire – UCLAN (United Kingdom)
  • Norwegian Centre of Violence and Traumatic Stress (Norway)
  • Applied Research and Communication Fund (Bulgaria)
  • Mediterranean Institute of Gender Studies (Cyprus)

Follow the project IN ACTION

Date of project: 01/01/2013 – 01/01/2015

DG of reference: DG Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship – DAPHNE III Programme

Contact:

CESIE: silvia.ciaperoni@cesie.org

www.stiritup.eu