For many of the victims it is the first love, the first boyfriend. But the supposed dream man is actually a highly manipulative human trafficker who forces girls and young women into prostitution.
Julia* celebrated her 13th birthday 2 days ago. Mostly relatives came to the party, it was terribly boring. At school she is rather a loner. She is introverted and insecure. Puberty has changed her body; she has the biggest breasts in the class and is mocked by the boys because of it. At the bus stop she often sees a handsome young man, he drives an expensive car, but usually just sits in it and talks on the phone. One day, it was gym class, and the classmates were again making really rude remarks because of her breasts, he came up to her with two mugs of hot chocolate and sat down. “Your beautiful eyes are sadder than usual today. I want to change that.” Julia felt a sensation as if lightning had struck her. Skillfully, the young man worms his way into Julia’s confidence, who in turn can’t believe her luck: After all, she now has a boyfriend, one who is prettier and older than the other girls’. YOU!
This situation or a similar one can be the entry into prostitution. “Lover boys”, who do not live up to their name in the least, are pimps or human traffickers. And their scam is disgusting. They prey on their victims outside schools, in cafes, bars, online in social media, on gaming sites or even on age-appropriate dating apps. They gain the trust of insecure, naive girls from all walks of life. Some are as young as eleven or twelve.
Puberty brings with it all sorts of uncertainties. The changing body, the hormonal chaos that also puts pressure on the emotions. Disputes with parents who never understand you. And suddenly there he is: Prince Charming. Handsome, well-toned, smartly dressed – like something out of a boy band.
He has time, understanding, money. He brings gifts, listens. They spend more and more time together, soon they have sex, because he can’t resist her, she is so beautiful. The relationship is something very special, the future together is planned. A nice apartment, maybe a house? Julia is now head over heels in love, in bondage to him. She spends less and less time at home, her parents don’t even see her anymore. Her lover also finds that her parents are simply annoying. Besides, she is a real woman now. Once a buddy of his is present when he wants to have sex. Julia is very uncomfortable, she is ashamed, resists. “Don’t you love me? Don’t you trust me? My friend is having a bad time right now, I want you to comfort him.” It’s strange, but you don’t want to lose a man like that.
This is what they call ‘breaking in fresh meat.’
END OF THE LINE
Some victims are raped by friends of the lover boy. This act is filmed to blackmail the girl: “Let your family and your classmates see what kind of girl you are!” Sometimes drugs are also involved to make the victim additionally dependent.
Suddenly a crisis: the boyfriend has debts that he must pay immediately. The easiest way would be for her to prostitute herself for a short time. Just a few weeks. Yes, he wouldn’t like that either! But with her looks she could earn a lot; in a few weeks she would have enough money. What do you mean, you don’t really love me? Have you forgotten everything I’ve done for you?
The reasons are always different: debts, money for the dream property, illness with high private costs. Lover boys are masters of brainwashing, and the now victims have long been in a relationship of dependence.
Julia lands confused on the street prostitution scene, she feels bad, something is just going really wrong. Caught between love and shame, she does what he asks of her. The men are disgusting! She can’t stop showering, washing off all the dirt again. But it doesn’t work! She hands over the money. In the morning he continues to take her to school, but she often falls asleep in class. Her performance slips, she has become even quieter. Teachers become attentive, which she only snappishly dismisses. She no longer takes part in gymnastics classes; he has forged an excuse for her. No one should see the bruises – if she brings too little money, he gets angry. But she herself is also aware that she has to be more diligent.
In some cases, the victims do not see their lover boy again, as he is already taking care of the next one, the money is taken by someone else. They work in a brothel or a private apartment, often in foreign cities. As the former location, they have now disappeared off the face of the earth.
When Julia learns that there are others besides her, that she is neither the only one nor his great love, the world breaks down for her. She tries to slit her wrists, but it doesn’t work, and she is found. She would like to go home, but she wouldn’t even know what to tell her parents. And all the videos and photos he took of her, her parents would throw her out anyway. She feels so terribly alone and deceived.
Getting out is difficult. There is blackmail, violence, death threats against the girl herself or the family. The girls are ashamed, believing their family and friends will turn away. In addition, they are still in bondage to their lover boy, the supposed feeling of love (ok, there are others, but he only loves me) and hope (as soon as there is enough money, our beautiful life begins) makes them continue.
WHO ARE THESE LOVERBOYS?
Young men between the ages of 18 and 30, often from marginalized social groups such as motorcycle gangs. They are stylishly dressed, drive expensive cars, and initially behave like real gentlemen. The term lover boy was coined a little more than 10 years ago in the Netherlands, when more than 1500 cases/year were recorded there.
WHO ARE THE VICTIMS?
They are mostly minors, come from all social backgrounds, and by initiating contact via the Internet, their place of residence is also irrelevant. In 2021, according to the Federal Situation Report on Human Trafficking and Exploitation of the BKA (Federal Criminal Police Office), 22.8% of the victims of “human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation” were German, and one third were younger than 21. The KOK (Bundesweiter Koordinierungskreis gegen Menschenhandel e. V.) reports that the majority of German victims came to prostitution through the lover boy method.
However, the number of unreported cases is much higher, since lover boy victims are not listed separately in any statistics. In addition, many girls do not press charges because they are threatened or ashamed and no longer trust anyone. In addition, there is often a lack of victim awareness since they prostitute themselves voluntarily in their opinion.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
Raise awareness and educate. The children, the parents and families, the teachers. Not looking the other way when someone appears to need help. Strengthening the self-confidence of teenagers, making family cohesion clear.
There are now many initiatives that hold preventive workshops at schools or give talks to parents. They provide support when help is needed. Here are several links:
www.die-elterninitiative.de – Initiative for parents of lover boy victims
www.eilod.de – Initiative for parents of lover boy victims
https://www.frauenrechte.de/unsere-arbeit/themen/frauenhandel/loverboy-methode – Information for schools
www.weisser-ring.de/media-news/news-pressemitteilungen/14-05-2012 Information and help for victims
www.liebe-ohne-zwang.de/de/loverboys – Workshops und information
www.lightup-movement.at/was-kann-ich-tun – Platform to get involved in the fight against human trafficking
www.wienernetzwerk.at – Network against sexual violence of children, including several resources for information and help
*Julia und her stories are fictional.
Translated by Emily Schiffer
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