Criminal grooming of teens happens mostly under the radar: report

Depressed teenage girl with hands over face sitting on the stairs.
Depressed teenage girl with hands over face sitting on the stairs.

More needs to be done to detect and prevent the grooming of teens for criminal activities, the centre for the prevention of people trafficking CKM has said.

After two years of research in 13 cities, the organisation found some 2,500 suspected victims of grooming of whom only 68 were registered as victims.

Criminal gangs are increasingly relying on teenagers but most of the grooming is taking place under the radar, the CKM concludes in its report.

Victims of the practice are usually vulnerable youths, CKM spokeswoman Shamir Ceuleers told broadcaster NOS. ‘Recruiters hang around primary schools and vocational colleges and even youth care homes. They pick teens who may have a learning disability, or who are lonely, in debt or struggling with addiction.’

Offers of friendship quickly evolve into requests to deliver a package or hand over a bank card, Ceuleers said, and sometimes the coercion is so subtle the teens themselves don’t realise it’s happening.


But to prevent teens from being sucked into a life of crime both perpetrators and victims need to become visible, she said.

Half of the 1,637 people interviewed for the research, which included local police, school inspectors, youth workers and other professionals, said they had been in contact with a possible victim of both criminal and sexual exploitation in the last two years.

Because the teens and young adult don’t identify as a victim they won’t ask for help for fear of prosecution, Ceuleers said. ‘So often when police do catch up with them it will be as a perpetrator.’

Not just big cities

Criminal exploitation is not just a big city problem, the research has shown. ‘Young people are all triggered by the same things. It can be making friends or getting rich, or simply excitement. There are also family circumstances that make criminal activity more likely,’ Ilonka Donker, team leader at the Nuborgh College Veluvine in Nunspeet said.

The school has been organising special lessons to alert pupils and teachers to telltale signs. ‘We were seeing older pupils befriending younger ones. And they would then be spotted wearing expensive clothes which you know they cannot afford. That can mean they have been doing a little job for someone,’ Donker said.

CKM said that policies to combat crime must include the fact that not all involved are doing so of their own volition. ‘That is not the case now. The justice minister is looking at the Italian model to combat organised crime but it should also look at Britain which is focusing on criminal exploitation as well,’ Ceuleers said.

In a reaction ,the justice ministry said the Netherlands is working with other countries, including the UK. In April justice minister Dilan Yeşilgöz allocated €82 million to 15 local councils with areas where youngsters are most at risk of being groomed for criminal activity.

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