Lover Boys

This is the story of Ibrahim, a Dutch-Moroccan man tackling the taboo problem of sex-trafficking within his community.

Filmmakers: Julia Rooke and Caroline Pare

This is the story of Ibrahim, a courageous Dutch-Moroccan social worker in the Netherlands who is tackling the high incidences of sex-trafficking of young Dutch girls by their so-called ‘boyfriends’ – the Lover Boys – the majority of whom are Dutch-Moroccan.

It is a taboo subject, but Ibrahim and his allies, including a local sheikh, are determined to remove this stain from their community.

This raw and often graphic film introduces us to both perpetrators and victims of this branch of internal sex-trafficking.

Ibrahim does preventative work with vulnerable young men in youth clubs as well as political lobbying to get the matter addressed in his local authority.

The complications of working in a country where prostitution is legal for over 18s, as well as cultural taboos within his own community, make for many challenges – and he is only too aware that right-wing elements thrive on any vulnerabilities among immigrant groups.

The film includes a disguised interview with a former Lover Boy, as well as harrowing and graphic testimonies from young women who were pimped by their ‘boyfriends’ when aged 12 and 15.

NOTE: This film contains some graphic descriptions of sexual abuse and some strong language which has been appropriately beeped.


By Ibrahim Wijbenga

I got involved in the battle against human trafficking – and in particular against the young pimps sometimes referred to as ‘Lover Boys’ – in 2003.

It is a term too lovely to convey the horror of their actions: buying girls gifts and fancy clothes with the aim of gradually establishing a tighter grip over their lives and eventually forcing them into prostitution.

In the Netherlands, many ‘Lover Boys’ – and some of their victims – are of Moroccan origin. It was this connection to the country of my own roots that inspired me to gather more information on them and their practices.

‘Lover Boys’ often seduce girls with gifts and promises of easy money. But when those girls are from their own community, they also abuse the culture of that community for their own ends. Once a girl from that community has lost her virginity to a ‘Lover Boy’ she has little choice but to stay with him for the other men in her community are unlikely to befriend or marry her.

We knew that getting a hold on these boys would not only be a task for the police, but that it would require getting the inside track on them – using the forces within their community for prevention and utilising the power of Islam and our imams, who have a strategically important position within the Moroccan community.

Most of the young men involved in this form of criminality are not scared of a judge, the police or the prison system – but they are sensitive to the standards of honour within their own community and will listen to the imams; they are, after all, Muslim.

We sought to confront them through both direct and indirect methods with anti-propaganda against pimping as our central goal. Our aim was to make the pimps lose face, to turn them into the laughing stock of their community and to create an environment in which, if you are a pimp, you are considered the biggest loser of all – a man without honour and the lowest form of criminal.

They use promises of love, romance and even marriage to win the trust of young girls who they then trick into working as prostitutes ... But because pimping is legal in the Netherlands, it is easy for them to operate below the radar.

by Read more of the filmmaker's view

Initially two imams, Abu Bakr el Fadil and Ahmed el Ouazzani, began the process of information gathering and started using the Friday prayer to launch a campaign on the issue of youth criminality, especially the problem of forced prostitution and pimping among Moroccan youth.

After some time I set up a network of imams, including well-known imams such as Sheikh Shershaby, Sheikh Jneid Fawaz and Sheikh al Bakkali, who took the battle against ‘Lover Boys’ nationwide.

We also started an information campaign to warn young girls about the practices of ‘Lover Boys’ and worked to inform their parents about the practices of our youngsters.

I also visited various courts across Holland and saw cases of ‘Lover Boys’ in Utrecht, Den Bosch, Rotterdam, Arnhem and in The Hague. I attended court sessions on human trafficking by young men. Unfortunately, many of them did not receive any penalty or punishment due to lack of evidence or because their victims withdrew their cases. Often the victims I saw at the courts were young Dutch women, while many of the suspects came from immigrant communities and were of Surinamese, Antillean, Moroccan or Turkish backgrounds.

Around this time I collaborated with Frank Bovenkerk, a professor from Utrecht who wrote a book on this matter. He essentially identified the same pattern: predominantly Dutch victims and suspects from various cultural backgrounds. We began contributing to the discussion of this topic within political parties and contacted the ministry of justice to see how we could best help each other.

My focus remained on the young men, but also on working with the parents of young girls who often did not know that their daughter was a victim of a ‘Lover Boy’.

As a result of our efforts, we have successfully reduced the number of Moroccan men involved in pimping. But I have recently seen a new development – the emergence of ‘Lover Girls’. These girls often work for ‘Lover Boys’ although they sometimes operate alone – becoming friends with a victim and then dragging them into prostitution. Now they too have become targets of our information campaigns.

As our community has grown increasingly aware of the existence of ‘Lover Boys’, their practices have become a hot topic of discussion in mosques and schools. We have had to confront those groups and political parties who have sought to use the fact that some Moroccan youth have been involved in this form of criminality to turn the general population against the Muslim community in its entirety. But it all starts with educating the young people in our community. If they have positive role models – good brothers and sisters – then good schools and neighbourhoods will follow.

Islam teaches us to be good fathers and role models, to obey the law and to give the best of ourselves. If we can beat the threats to our community and the criminality within our ranks, then we can easily have harmony within Dutch society.