By Emma Batha
LONDON, Jan 11 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Survivors of sex trafficking urged Netflix on Thursday to can a new show called "Baby" - inspired by an Italian teen sex scandal - accusing the streaming service of normalising child abuse.
In a letter to executives, they accused Netflix of double standards for glamourising sexual exploitation, weeks after it dumped actor Kevin Spacey, star of its flagship "House of Cards" drama, following allegations of sexual misconduct.
"Baby", which goes into production this year, is inspired by a scandal in Rome in which teenage students from the city's wealthy Parioli district were said to have sold sex to buy designer clothes and mobile phones.
The racket, involving the exploitation of 14- and 15-year-old girls, was dubbed the baby squillo scandal - a term meaning underage prostitute. The letter said eight traffickers were arrested and the ringleader was jailed for 10 years.
"Netflix recently fired Kevin Spacey ... To turn around and produce a show that glorifies the sex trafficking of minors and dub it 'edgy entertainment' is the height of hypocrisy ..." said Lisa Thompson, vice president of the U.S.-based National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE).
Netflix was not immediately available for comment.
Its site says Baby is "loosely inspired" by the baby squillo scandal, describing the eight-parter as "a coming-of-age story that explores the unseen lives of Roman high schoolers".
The letter sent to Netflix executives on Thursday - National Human Trafficking Awareness Day - was signed by 56 campaigners, social-service providers and survivors of sex trafficking, including some who were exploited as teenagers.
"There are no 'baby prostitutes' - only sexually abused, exploited and raped children," the letter said.
The NCOSE, which has also launched an online petition calling for the series to be axed, said any minor engaged in commercial sex was by definition a sex trafficking victim.
The letter accused the show of perpetuating a myth that prostitution was a glamourous, entrepreneurial adventure.
"If Netflix executives care more about ending sexual exploitation in this #MeToo moment than about profiting from sexually exploitive themes, they will cancel production of this show immediately," Thompson said.
Millions of women have taken to social media to share stories of sexual harassment using the #MeToo hashtag after a slew of assault allegations felled movie mogul Harvey Weinstein last year.
Weinstein has denied having non-consensual sex with anyone.
(Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.)
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