A 24-year-old man from Etten-Leur, arrested in October last year on suspicion of the online abuse of over a hundred underage girls, appeared in court in a pro forma hearing on Thursday as local police drafted in reinforcements to investigate ‘the biggest online abuse case ever’.
Police were alterted to the case when a girl, who was 15 at the time, told them she was being blackmailed into sending naked photos of herself to the perpetrator.
Further investigation showed that the man, named as Gianni de W, contacted the girls via social media under false names, such as Bryan.snapx and Bryansnelgeld, telling them they could make money if they sent him nakes pictures.
He then threatened to put them online unless they sent more explicit pictures and footage of sexual activity. Police found he made good on his threats in some instances and photos appeared online.
Some eight girls have now reported Van W, who remains in custody as police try to identify all the 150 or so girls whose photos were found on a computer hard drive. Some 20 have been identified so far, in what has become one of the biggest police investigations ever, the public prosecution office said.
Van W, who police think had been abusing young girls online for years, depended on threats and intimidation to prevent his victims from reporting the abuse, lawyer Priya Soekhai told broadcaster NOS . ‘Perpetrators force their victims into silence. They daren’t say anything for shame and fear.’
Jiska Dijk, who works for victim support organisation Slachtofferhulp Nederland, said the impact on the girls, some of whom she supports, is ‘huge’.
‘They feel judged and that is why they don’t go to the police. (..) Their parents’ or friends’ first reaction often is: ‘Why did you do it?’ That is not helpful. It would be better to ask if there is anything you can do to help,’ Dijk said.
The scale of the case does not come as a surprise to Soekhai. ‘The internet is so readily accessible. Predators are now sitting behind their computers and pretend to be teens themselves. It really can happen to anyone’s child,’ she said.
Anke van Dijke of the Fier expertise centre for sexual violence said the main thing is to break the silence about what happened and not to blame the victim. ‘Don’t vent your emotion on the child. Tell them that whatever happened, it is not their fault.’
The public prosecution office said it going to involve youth orgnisations, parents, relatives, schools, sport clubs and youth workers in a drive to talk to children about the dangers of social media.
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