Laura* was 17 when her boyfriend forced her into prostitution. She worked seven days a week as a prostitute but that wasn't enough for her boyfriend: "I had to go to bars and clubs and push other girls into prostitution. I had to start with my own friends."
Girls like Laura are known as lovergirls; they persuade or push other girls into prostitution. The girls, the vast majority of whom are minors, manipulate others into prostitution because they in turn are being manipulated by a pimp or loverboy. Anita de Wit of Stop Loverboys Now says lovergirls are not a new phenomenon, but they are certainly on the rise; around 85% of reports that come into the organisation concern lovergirls.
Laura: "I picked out the most vulnerable, insecure ones. If I'm in a club, I can tell from her body language if a girl is insecure, withdrawn. I can tell if she's part of a group or not. Those are the ones that are the easiest to get. You try and be friends with them; do nice things and really treat them nice until they totally trust you. Then you push their boundaries by introducing them to drugs and other stuff."
According to De Wit, lovergirls try to become 'best friends forever' with their potential victims. The next step is to separate the victims from their friends and family. "They drive a wedge between the girl and her parents, siblings and other friends. They push everybody else away from the girl."
They try to force the girl to break the rules laid down by parents. "It can start by introducing the girl to cigarettes and drugs or by shoplifting. The ultimate goal is to introduce the girl to a loverboy who will take over the task of grooming her for prostitution."
Anita de Wit says the victims don't realise that their new 'best friend forever' is a lovergirl because “girls find it easier to make contact with other girls and trust comes far more easily."
Marie* was just 12 when she was targeted by a lovergirl. Marie had been bullied at a previous school so she was an easy target, especially when the lovergirl was one of the most popular girls at school. Marie could hardly believe it when 16-year-old Anna* wanted to be her friend.
"She asked me if I wanted to go out with her some time. We met up once and then we started meeting up more frequently, just the two of us. She won my trust and I started telling her everything about me. She knew all of my secrets."
Marie got more and more involved with her new best friend and would do pretty much anything for her. She sneaked out of the house at night to party with Anna all night long. "She'd say to me, 'if you don't come with me then I won't be your best friend any more.' So I'd go because I thought that's what best friends did."
Her parents were furious with her but that was just the beginning.
"I started smoking cigarettes and marijuana. I started shoplifting and stealing money from my parents. I had to give it all to Anna; otherwise she'd say we couldn't be best friends any more. She also introduced me to an 18-year-old boy; he was my first boyfriend and a loverboy."
"At first he was really sweet, he did everything for me and I did everything for him. After three months, he beat the crap out of me. I rang Anna to tell her what happened. She said if you break up with him we can't be best friends any more. She said she'd ruin my entire life and I wouldn't have anyone at all."
Marie crumbled under the pressure from Anna. More beatings followed and Marie was raped by the loverboy, as well as his friends, brothers and cousins. They forced her to work as a prostitute and she turned tricks in parking garages, train stations and parks. Until she was 16, Marie was more or less a prisoner of various loverboy networks.
De Wit says these two cases alone make it clear that information campaigns are desperately needed; lots of girls are aware of loverboys but know nothing about lovergirls. She gives advice and information at schools so that girls will recognize the signs; she emphasises that they have nothing to be ashamed of.
*Names have been changed to protect identities