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, psychologically and physically 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. However, these past few years we have seen a significant change in the ‘grooming’ phase. The impact of social media on this issue is not to be underestimated. This results in the overall process of luring the girl in being significantly shorter than in the past, which makes the loverboy-method all the more worrying.
In 2019 Payoke has become the referral center for all victims of loverboys in 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.
The number of victims is hard to estimate. Over the past few years, between 40 and 60 victims have been identified 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. Being the referral center, Payoke is in an ideal position to gather information on the number of victims. We can already say that since Payoke’s competences have been broadened, we have had more than a hundred notifications of potential victims.