A ‘loverboy’ is a pimp, usually a young man, who seduces young women, often minors, to force them into prostitution or other illegal activities.
Loverboys establish a romantic relationship with their victims that quickly turns into an emotionally and psychologically abusive one. The victims’ situation is especially precarious, as the abuse takes place in their close or intimate relationship and in a state of complete emotional, psychological and financial dependency.
Sometimes also called Romeo pimps, teenage pimps or boyfriend pimps, loverboys tactics have become the most common modus operandi for the recruitment and exploitation of young women in the sex industry throughout Europe.
There is a common pattern in the way loverboys operate: gifts, love, drugs and, as a final step, initiation to prostitution. The exploiter knows that once a girl is emotionally involved, she will be ready to do anything to keep his affection.
The number of victims is hard to estimate. Over the past few years, between 40 and 60 victims have been identify annually in the Flanders alone. However, anti-trafficking organizations in Belgium and the Netherlands put the number in the thousands, as the phenomenon is invisible and takes place in illegal circuits.
In 2019 Payoke has become the referral center for all victims of loverboys in the Flanders, following the conferral of exclusive competences from the Flemish government and the allocation of dedicated funds. Payoke advocates for the establishment of a specialized reception center for victims of loverboys.