According to Gideon van Aartsen, associated with children’s rights organisation Terres des Hommes, the number of Dutch victims of grooming gangs has risen sharply in recent years.
Van Aartsen is the project manager of Watch Netherlands, where he leads a team looking for grooming gangs and their victims, AD.nl reported.
The gangs recruit via the internet and that trade often also crosses the border. Flemish girls and boys are forced into prostitution in the Netherlands and Dutch boys and girls in Belgium.
“Minors are often put to work across borders, because they are less likely to run away,” Van Aartsen explains. “Dutch victims often end up in Antwerp, where they do not work behind the window, but in certain cafes that are referred to as ‘bar’ in Belgium.”
According to Terres des Hommes, the increase in the number of underage prostitutes in both Belgium and the Netherlands is due to online trade. grooming gangs recruit children on platforms such as Telegram and Tinder.
“It is big business,” says Van Aartsen. “Sometimes 160 men respond to an advertisement within 48 hours.”
As an example he mentions the so-called “thousand euro girl”. The victim collected a thousand euros a day in Belgium for her pimp. “She only got 50 euros per customer. The girl had an average of 20 customers per day.”
The project leader says grooming gangs encourage adolescents to undress before the webcam, after which they blackmail them with photos. “That blackmail goes is so extensive, that children take the train themselves to work in Belgium. They see no other way out.”
What many people do not know is that boys are increasingly also victims of exploitation. Terres des Hommes is currently conducting research into male victims, because boys’ prostitution often remains under the radar.
“The research is still ongoing, we are already seeing the most poignant cases”, says Van Aartsen. Sometimes boys initially do it “voluntarily” for money but then they get entangled in prostitution.
The upcoming cooperation between the municipality of Antwerp and the Dutch children’s rights organisation is unique in Belgium. “In the Netherlands, the government often cooperates with NGOs, companies and citizens. If we are on the trail, we will transfer that to the police. In Belgium, this cooperation between the government and citizens in the fight against crime is unusual,” says Van Aartsen.
Nevertheless, the municipality of Antwerp now also sees that the cooperation as valuable. That is why Antwerp is going to form a team with Terres des Hommes, says Van Aartsen.
“Cross-border child prostitution is a strong example of organised crime. Grooming gangs work together, so we also have to join forces if we want to fight them.”
Belgian prostitution official Lieve Huijskens agrees. “Human traffickers do not stop at the border,” she told the Flemish television channel VRT.
“If a victim does not immediately want to make a statement to the police and there is still insufficient evidence that there is indeed victimization, it is sometimes easier for a citizens’ initiative to continue to gather information,” says Huijskens.
“People who suspect that a grooming gang is involved often do not dare to make a declaration”, continues Van Aartsen. At Watchnederland.nl you can report such crimes anonymously however.
An investigation by Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad in May this year revealed that the gangs are largely from migrant backgrounds.
The newspaper contacted social workers, the police and experts who confirmed that the men were mostly Moroccans, Turks or Antilleans.
Dutch police spokeswoman Marijke van Overveld numbered the victims at “almost 1400 minor per year”. Overveld noted that the timeframe for blackmailing the children into sex has shortened from several months to two weeks or less.
British anti-immigration activist Tommy Robinson quoted research which found that nearly 90 percent of convicted grooming gang members in the UK were Muslim.