Profile: Karima El Mahroug
She may be only 18, but by her own admission, the woman at the centre of the sex scandal engulfing Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has not been shielded from the darker sides of life.
Karima El Mahroug - the night-club dancer whose stage name is Ruby Rubacuori, or Ruby Heartstealer - says as a child, she was a victim of rape and abuse.
She has been in and out of care since running away from home at - reports say - either 12 or 14 years old.
The transcripts of tapped telephone conversations quoted in Italian media suggest she began her acquaintance with Mr Berlusconi when she was just 16 years old.
But Ms Mahroug has sought to draw a distinction between her treatment by men in general and her treatment by Mr Berlusconi.
"It is the first time in my life that a man has not tried to take me to bed. He behaved like a father, I swear," she told Italian newspaper La Repubblica last year.
She denies any sexual relationship with Mr Berlusconi, saying he is just a lonely man who pays to be in the company of young women.
And she now says she is about to marry her nightclub manager boyfriend Luca Rizzo.Runaway
Karima El Mahroug reportedly arrived in Italy with her family from Morocco in 2003, settling in the eastern Sicilian coastal town of Letojanni.
Her childhood was a difficult one, she said in an interview in January on one of the TV channels owned by Mr Berlusconi.
Relationship with Mr Berlusconi
- February 2010: Ms Mahroug reportedly introduced to Mr Berlusconi after one of his friends saw her in a nightclub
- Over the following months, Ms Mahroug - then aged 17 - visited Mr Berlusconi's residence several times, when prosecutors allege he paid to have sex with her
- May 2010: Arrested in Milan on suspicion of stealing money and jewellery - but released from jail after call from PM's office, claiming she was a relative of then-Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Mr Berlusconi denies abusing his power to secure her release
- Prosecutors say they have transcripts for dozens of phone conversations between the pair
- Ms Mahroug admits receiving 7,000 euros (£5,900; $9,400) from Berlusconi as a gift after they first met but denies it was payment for sex
- Denies demanding 5m euros from Mr Berlusconi to keep quiet about their relationship
"When I was nine years old, I was raped by two of my uncles - my father's brothers," she was quoted as saying.
"The only person who I dared to talk to about what happened, my mother, said, 'Keep quiet, because if your dad finds out you're not a virgin, he'll kill you,'" she said.
After she was raped, she said she invented a "parallel world" to block out the memories.
"I told my schoolmates I had a marvellous family, and I pretended I was Wonderwoman."
But at 12, her Muslim father threw a pan of boiling oil over her after she said she wanted to become a Catholic, Ms Mahroug claimed.
Other reports suggest she was known in the local town for her fiery character and for being a petty thief.
She ran away, stealing a woman's handbag before being found by police and sent to a series of care homes.'Buying affection'
Later, Ms Mahroug became a belly dancer but denied ever working as a prostitute. "I tried but I didn't succeed. Like my mother told me, you're born a hooker, you don't become one."
She is said to have met Mr Berlusconi after one of his friends spotted her in a nightclub - the introduction arranged by Nicole Minetti, the prime minister's former dental hygienist who is alleged to have procured women for his parties - and admits spending nights at his residence.
End Quote Karima El Mahroug
[Silvio Berlusconi] is alone and fights loneliness, a bit like I do”
Their relationship came to light after Ms Mahroug was arrested by Milan police on a charge of theft but was released - controversially handed over to Ms Minetti rather than put into care - after a phone call from the prime minister's office.
Mr Berlusconi stands by the claim made to police at the time that he believed she was a relative of the Egyptian president and demanded her freedom to avoid a diplomatic incident.
Mr Berlusconi claims he gave money, gifts and help to Ms Mahroug out of pity, while she also denies any sexual aspect of their relationship.
In another interview, she said he staved off loneliness by buying affection - something she said she could relate to, as she often sent money to her estranged father.
"He is alone and fights loneliness, a bit like I do," Ms Mahroug reportedly said.
"I pay to get my father's affection; he pays for young women."
Ms Mahroug has turned her role in the scandal to her advantage, appearing in lucrative TV interviews, in an advert and by making special appearances in nightclubs around Italy.
But she says now she wants to settle down into married life and - according to AFP news agency - would like to study child psychology in Genoa.