Schoolgirls Controlled by Loverboys Math Class in the Morning, Turning Tricks at Lunchtime
Part 2: 'It Was Like an Addiction'
He picked her up after school, gave her marijuana, prostituted her to johns during her free periods, and made sure that she was back in class on time and was always present to take important tests. He was making sure that no one would notice anything.
Maria's mother, Lucie Mosterd, a teacher in a nearby school, noticed how her daughter was changing during that time, and how she became estranged from her mother. "She was aggressive and her speech changed". In the past, says Mosterd, Maria was shy and even-tempered, "but suddenly she was a beast, a slut." When Maria came home in the afternoon, she immediately took a shower. "I thought she was sweaty from riding her bike," says the mother. In reality, her daughter was washing off the smell of her johns before she slammed her door shut.
For parents, it is difficult to judge whether changes in their daughters can still be attributed to puberty, a time when it is normal for cracks to form in the relationship between parents and their children. "I thought it was because of puberty," says Lucie Mosterd. "Perhaps it was also depression. Or maybe she was borderline." She sent her daughter to a psychotherapist, "but I had become a brilliant liar," says Maria, who had devised an explanation for everything.
In school too, it took a long time before anyone noticed what was wrong with Maria. Her loverboy made sure that she was not absent enough to raise any alarm bells. Whenever she had to leave class, Maria told her teachers that she had to go to the doctor, or she invented other lies.
'It Was Totally Normal for Me'
After two years, when Maria was 14, her loverboy came home with her for the first time, to the attractive row house on a small canal where she lived with her family. He introduced himself to her mother as a new boyfriend, and he claimed that he was attending the vocational school next to Maria's school. The mother thought the boy, who already had a car, was too old for her daughter. But she liked him, so she permitted him to visit Maria as long as she was home.
He ate dinner with the family and he played with Maria's little brothers. There are some photos of Manou with his arm around Maria, but in others he is shown with fighting dogs.
By now Maria was high most of the time. She had become violent, and anyone who addressed her in school ran the risk of being assaulted. She became a dealer for Manou and introduced other girls to him. At some point, when Maria was 16, a teacher asked her what was going on. The teacher had noticed her aggressive behavior, her absences from school and the rings around her eyes. Maria, not knowing what to say, told the teacher that she had been raped by four men in an apartment.
"At the time, I really didn't understand why she and my mother made such a big deal out of it," says Maria. "It was totally normal for me." She took the police to the apartment where it had happened. Three of the men were sentenced to ridiculously short prison terms for having sex with a minor, but not for rape. Maria did not, however, involve her pimp, Manou. "I was so dependent on him," says Maria. "It was like an addiction."
'Men Are Disgusting Creatures'
In the Netherlands, girls like Maria, who have been victimized by loverboys, are placed in a special section of a juvenile prison for their own safety. Her mother, desperate, gave her a choice: prison or a therapeutic project in India, so far away from her pimp that he would never find her. Maria, who was 16 by then, went to India, where she worked with children in an orphanage and spoke with her social worker every day. It took a long time before she realized that Manou was a criminal. "I didn't even know myself without him," she says. It was as if she had grown up with him.
"My life is boring today," says Maria, as she sits in the small garden behind her row house. Yes, she says, it sounds absurd, but somehow, in a sick way, she misses the excitement of her former life. She says that because of him she became a dull, hard person who has trouble empathizing with others. She cannot imagine being in love and having a relationship. "For me, men are disgusting creatures."
It's early in the morning on a clear spring day in the Maasland region in the southern Netherlands. Some 70 kilometers away Angelique, the Amsterdam girl, is preparing for her next shift behind the shop window, as her mother, Anita de Wit, sits down behind the teacher's desk in a stifling classroom fully of teenagers. She wants to prevent more girls from suffering the same fate as her daughter.
"What is a loverboy?" she asks. "A pimp," the students say, giggling.
De Wit shows the class a film in which a girl talks about how her loverboy forced her to have sex, and how she smuggled drugs for him, was caught and is now in prison. Maria Mosterd also appears in the film. Then de Wit shows a recording of a 2007 Dutch TV program about missing children.
At the time, Angelique had disappeared from a therapeutic facility, together with a boy, and de Wit began searching for her daughter by posting flyers in Rotterdam and other cities. She was also accompanied by a camera team.
Suddenly, after six weeks, she received a call from her daughter. "Where are you, where are you?" the mother asked. "I don't know," Angelique said, with panic in her voice, "somewhere in Rotterdam."
She said that she had run away from a house filled with men to get to a telephone store. The film shows the mother and daughter when they are reunited for the first time. Angelique looks puffy and her eyes are tearstained. "They forced me to take drugs and sleep with men," she says. The policed raided the house and arrested most of the men.
Things improved for Angelique after that. She helped her mother with her work at the Stoploverboys group, and she seemed to be doing well. She was 19. Then, on a weekend in Amsterdam, she met Yassin, her next pimp, fell in love and the horror began all over again.
Angelique is now so brainwashed that she voluntarily prostitutes herself for a man. Maria lives a hidden life in a secret location and is nostalgic about her past. Mowitha Wittmer will still have to choose the direction in which her life will go. She disappeared on Nov. 5, 2009.
"The last traces of her lead to a German brothel," says her mother, Estella Kempen. She glances around Mowitha's room on the top floor of her house in the southern Dutch city of Maastricht. Kempen is a petite woman, desperate but composed. The words "Happy Birthday Mowitha, Sweet 16" are written on a blackboard, and the walls are covered with vacation snapshots, posters of Bob Marley and strings of lights -- a normal teenager's room. "In reality, I lost her much earlier," says the mother. Mowitha was 13 when she met her loverboy. Five months ago, she ran away from a closed facility for girls.
Traces of a Lost Daughter
Kempen and her husband are both music teachers. They live in an attractive, welcoming and lovingly furnished house. She sounds astonished when she talks about her daughter's story, as if she were hearing it for the first time. But on the table in front of her are police files, court summons and pieces of evidence from the last four years -- all traces of a lost daughter.
Mowitha attended the same therapeutic project in India where Maria Mosterd went to get away from her loverboy. There are photos on the table of her dressed in a sari, a beaming girl with curly hair and freckles. For a time, after she had returned to the Netherlands, it seemed as if she were coming to her senses and wanted to lead a normal life. But then she slid back into prostitution, and her mother felt that her only option was to send her to the juvenile prison.
In November, she and another girl ran away from the facility by climbing the fence. Her loverboy had contacted her again, via the Internet, e-mail and text messaging.
The investigators managed to get into his e-mail account. He goes by the screen name babsyscle23. In one e-mail, he writes that she has to get a passport because he wants to take her abroad. He also tells her to have his name tattooed onto her chest in two places. This is how pimps mark their prostitutes.
Together with Angelique's mother Anita de Wit and Bärbel Kannemann of Stoploverboys, Estella Kempen is now searching for her daughter. She has printed flyers, one in Dutch and one in German, that include a photo of Mowitha and state that she is 17 and 1.60 meters (5'3") tall. The women follow up on leads from informants within the prostitution milieu. A girl wrote that she had worked with Mowitha in a brothel near Kleve in western Germany. Kempen plans to go there, hand out flyers and search brothels.
A few weeks ago, Dutch Justice Minister Ernst Hirsch Ballin proposed legislation that would raise the minimum age for prostitutes from 18 to 21, so as to protect minors from involuntary prostitution, human trafficking and loverboys.
The legislation probably won't do Kempen any good. She has almost completely lost her daughter already. Mowitha will no longer be a minor when she turns 18 in October. Then she'll be just like Angelique, a prostitute working behind a shop window or in a brothel somewhere in the world.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
- Part 1: Math Class in the Morning, Turning Tricks at Lunchtime
- Part 2: 'It Was Like an Addiction'