The city of Antwerp has joined forces with the Dutch NGO Terre des Hommes to tackle the problem of so-called loverboys – young men who enter into relationships with young girls with the aim of forcing them into prostitution. The phenomenon is growing in Belgium, according to a report last week by the VRT.
The NGO explains that the loverboy seduces the young girl, either in person or, increasingly, over the internet, creating a romantic dependence which leaves her vulnerable to his persuasion. He then convinces her to turn to prostitution. In other cases, the loverboy convinces her to send him compromising photos via internet, which he can then use to blackmail her into prostitution by threatening to put them on social media or send them to the girl’s family.
Many of the loverboys are turning to girls in Belgium, said Gideon Van Aartsen of Terre des Hommes, access to whom is now available online, without involving the loverboy in the time-consuming business of a real-life seduction. Antwerp is particularly vulnerable given its relative proximity to the Netherlands. And the problem is not restricted to vulnerable girls.
“Flemish girls and boys are prostituted in the Netherlands, and Dutch girls and boys are prostituted in Belgium. For the young people, that of course has the additional unfortunate effect of increasing their isolation.”
Terre des Hommes has now contacted the Antwerp city authorities, as well as the prosecutor’s office, to help combat the phenomenon here. According to Lieve Huijskens, a consultant on prostitution to the city, the various parties will exchange information, which could be successful in at least stopping the growth of the phenomenon in Antwerp.