Days before the school holidays are set to start in Belgium, the police issued a warning regarding the presence of online child molesters, who may increase efforts to prey on young people who flock to social media to stay in touch with friends.
The Federal Police's internet investigators have been put on high alert regarding the use of social media, especially TikTok and Instagram, by molesters to target young people, according to Commissioner Olivier Bogaert.
"Child molesters use social media to get in touch with the young generation. They create a profile and pretend to be a minor," he said in a statement.
He explained that they then use this profile to join private chat groups and contact other participants, often in an overly friendly or flirty way. "In this way, they gain their trust and eventually receive very intimate photos," Bogaert warned.
In other cases, they pose as a photographer and propose to young people that they can create a free photo album or portfolio for them, a technique that specialists call "shout-out." These can later be used by the predator as blackmailing material to threaten the girl to show more of herself.
Guides to seduce children
Online predators are working in increasingly systematic ways, and are even sharing tips among themselves online to seduce children, also among people living in Flanders, according to a recent investigation by Het Laatste Nieuws. The tips can also be used online in many cases.
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The manuals include tips on how predators can approach, seduce and abuse a child, and what type of young people — such as those who are bullied or have few friends — is easier to approach, as well as technical guidelines on how to protect themselves from the police and how to encrypt files.
These so-called “paedo manuals" triggered some 80 MEPs, led by Belgian politician Hilde Vautmans, to call on the European Commission to ban them earlier this year. Currently, Germany and the Netherlands are the only two EU countries with legislation restricting the possession and distribution of such manuals.
Meanwhile, Child Focus has advised parents to talk about the danger of online predators with their children.