The number of reported cases of suspected child prostitution has increased dramatically, according to Child Focus in its annual report published on Tuesday. From 10 reports in 2014, there were 35 cases in 2015 and 60 in 2016.
Two thirds of the open files are related to runaways and in 37 cases the minor was abused by pimps of adolescents. To raise awareness among young people and the public about this phenomenon, the Foundation for Missing and Sexually Exploited Children has launched the website www.stopproxenete-ados.be, a French version of the website www.stoptienerpooiers.be, which previously went online with the support of the Flemish government.
In general, adolescents are increasingly subjected to sexual blackmail, says Child Focus. In 2016, the number of cases of “sextortion” (inciting a person to share sexual selfies and videos and subsequently subjecting them to sexual blackmail) exploded from 17 in 2015 to 41 in 2016. Grooming, a strategy of soliciting minors via the internet to manipulate them to obtain sexual favors, is also increasing with 48 cases opened in 2016 versus 31 the previous year. Finally, Child Focus received 128 reports of secondary sexting cases (62 cases in 2015), which is the exchange of sexually related selfies that later end up in the public sphere.
Conversely, reported cases of child pornography declined sharply in Belgium in 2016, but not in neighboring countries. In 2016, the site received 781 reports, whereas in previous years, the number was around 1,400. Child Focus makes several assumptions. First, the phenomenon might have migrated to the “dark web”, preventing the majority of users from being caught with these images by chance. Secondly, this decrease may be “simply due to the fact that we have relatively little publicity for our civil contact point”, concludes the Foundation.