Schoolgirls Controlled by Loverboys: Math Class in the Morning, Turning Tricks at Lunchtime
They are still children, only 12 or 13 years old. They fall in love for the first time, at the school gates or on Facebook, and wind up with a pimp. Parents and police are struggling against the hold so-called loverboys have over young girls, but often it's already too late.
It had happened again the previous evening. One of her johns came into her booth behind the glass window, starting groping her and then wanted more than she usually offers for 50 ($64).
At that moment, says Angelique, when the police didn't show up, as usual, and the man raged at her, she asked herself why on earth she does this, why she is stupid enough to prostitute herself, to give up her youth and her body here in Amsterdam's red-light district, up to 20 times a day. Why?
"I guess I just never learned how to do anything else," says Angelique. She was 15 when she fell in love with her first pimp. He would be waiting for her in his car when she came out of school. He bought her short shirts, high-heeled shoes and big earrings and told her to put them on. She did it because she loved him. Then he drove her to parking lots and apartments, where he rented out her body, the body of a 15-year-old girl. Angelique was raised to have sex.
"He looked like a model," says Angelique today. She drives through the labyrinthine cobblestone streets of Amsterdam's red-light district, De Walen, a tall girl with clinking gold earrings and long hair. Tourists, drug dealers and johns jostle in the narrow streets and alleys.
"I got to know him after school," says Angelique. One day, she says, when she and a girlfriend went to drink a coke after school, a boy offered her a chair, an attractive, 19-year-old Moroccan. He bought her a drink and then invited her back to his car to listen to music. Soon he was taking her to parties and discotheques and giving her alcohol. She fell in love. A few weeks later, he forced her to sleep with strange men for the first time.
Seeking Out Schoolgirls
In the Netherlands they're called loverboys, these men who captivate schoolgirls and then send them out on the streets, young men who meet 13, 14 and 15-year-old girls outside their schools or online, through social networks like Facebook, and who then make them dependent on their attentions, their affection and drugs, until it's too late and the girls belong to them.
That was how it happened with Angelique, who was in 8th grade when it started; and with Maria, 12, whose loverboy made sure that she continued going to school; and with Mowitha, a 13-year-old girl who liked playing football and the guitar, until she met her loverboy.
Dutch society has been shaken by the stories of girls like Angelique, who go to math class in the morning and turn tricks at lunchtime, sometimes even during free periods between classes. But what is perhaps most shocking is that these are not girls from broken homes and socially deprived environments who are sliding into and disappearing in the underworld, but girls from the center of society, daughters of teachers and café owners. Sometimes they work as prostitutes for years before anyone even notices.
Emotional dependence between prostitutes and pimps has always existed. Women are made submissively dependent with drugs, violence and sometimes affection, to ensure that they do their pimps' bidding. But the idea that young men are systematically seeking out schoolgirls to groom them to become prostitutes is a new phenomenon that has overwhelmed parents, teachers and the police.
To fight the problem, Dutch schools are holding informational seminars, social service agencies are setting up shelters for the victims and criminologists are taking a look at the issue. In Germany, a few parents are also waking up to reality and turning to aid organizations, because they are at a loss as to how to save their daughters from pimps.
"Soon he started giving me marijuana and cocaine," says Angelique. She went to school in the morning, where she tried to appear alert. In the afternoon, she went to rendezvous points and got into his car.
If she refused, he would pinch her and hit her, on her arms and legs, in spots where no one would notice. Her mobile phone was constantly ringing, and she was getting messages from him, like: "where are you?" and "get over here, right away." She would tell her parents that she was going to a friend's house.
"I know that he was bad for me," says Angelique, "and that he messed up my life." But to be honest, she adds, she still dreams about his eyes.
By then, she was probably already too involved and not open to outside help anymore. "At a certain point, the girls are no longer capable of recognizing reality," and the loverboy becomes the only reality, says Bärbel Kannemann. She is a short, plump woman, a retired inspector who worked for the police in Germany for 35 years. Now she divides her time between Germany and the Netherlands. She became aware of the issue of loverboys through a TV program about missing children. For the last two years, Kannemann has been involved with an organization called "Stoploverboys."
Aid organizations estimate that about 1,500 young girls fall victim to this form of prostitution every year. The victims are usually afraid to go to the police, for various reasons: because they are being threatened, because they feel ashamed or guilty, or because they have no proof. Two years ago, 180 complaints were filed against loverboys, but police suspect that the number of unreported cases is much higher.
Sophisticated System of Control
The burden of proof rests with the girls. But how can someone prove, years later, that they were abused as a child? The girls are often under the influence of drugs or in shock, and the months become a blur of different places, violence and sex. And besides, who believes what a whore has to say?
"After school, I go to my daily rape," says Kannemann, describing a situation to which many of the girls have become accustomed. Together with Angelique's mother, Anita de Wit, she goes to schools and speaks with parents and victims. Only yesterday, she went to the red-light district in Rotterdam to look for a girl whose parents had reported her as missing. This year alone, says Kannemann, she and de Wit have liberated seven girls from the clutches of their respective loverboys. Kannemann is also trying to investigate cases in Germany, where the first victims contacted her a few weeks ago.
The mechanisms they use to entice the girls into submission, says Kannemann, are always the same: The pimp alienates a girl from her environment and stirs her up against her parents until he become the only person she can relate to.
It is a sophisticated system of control, power and rewards. Eventually, the girls feel that they hardly have an identity of their own without these men, says Kannemann. Sometimes it takes years until girls are able to lead independent lives again.
Maria Mosterd has managed to get out, but she wonders how long it will last. "If he found me," she says, "I can't say that I would never go back to him."
She is sitting in the garden of a row house in a small Dutch city, a pretty girl with her hair braided into pigtails. No one can know where she lives, she says. She is 22 and has a young daughter and a new life, "but it's difficult for me," she says. For years, her life was structured around orders. Her pimp constantly told her what to do, "what to wear, what to say, with whom to sleep -- and suddenly I have to make so many decisions on my own."
It was a summery day in August or September when Maria met her loverboy. She was riding her bike to a new school. Maria was 12 years old.
"Hello," he said as she rode by. That was all he said, but Maria thought that it sounded cool, and she felt the other girls looking at her, admiringly, perhaps even with envy. "Hello," she replied, as she continued riding her bike to the school.
He was standing there again a few days later, but this time he wanted to talk to her and give her compliments. He said his name was Manou. The fourth time they met he took her for a ride in his car and then, according to Maria, took her to a house where he raped her. He told her that it was normal for girls her age to do things like that. She was now his prostitute, his property.
- Part 1: Math Class in the Morning, Turning Tricks at Lunchtime
- Part 2: 'It Was Like an Addiction'
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