2022 Assembly


City of Rotterdam tackles criminal and sexual exploitation


The municipality is concerned about vulnerable Rotterdam youths being recruited by criminals. That is why a pilot has been started in two neighbourhoods of the city with youth workers and other professionals. They get a training in which they learn to recognize signs of criminal and sexual exploitation. The Chat About It! started. This should encourage victims to chat with social workers about their situation.

The reason for this approach is a study by the municipality from 2021. Five hundred professionals, such as community police officers, youth workers, municipal officials and school attendance officers, participated in the study. Nearly half indicated that they had been in contact with at least one suspected victim of criminal exploitation in the past two years.

Vulnerable youth

Criminals take advantage of vulnerable young people and force them to do criminal chores. Criminal exploitation involves coercion. That coercion does not always consist of violence, such as ‘a knife to the throat’. It is often more subtle; perpetrators abuse the trust, young age and naivety of victims. In this way, they are forced to commit a crime. For example, they have to hand over their debit card for money laundering. Or they are forced to commit drug-related crimes. Sexual exploitation happens when someone is forced to perform sexual acts. These are often vulnerable young people, such as minors, young people with a mild intellectual disability or who are struggling with debts.

More visibility

During the training, youth workers and other professionals are trained in recognizing signs of criminal and sexual exploitation. This training is carried out together with the organization Fier. They are a national expertise and treatment centre for anyone who has or has had to deal with violence in dependency relationships. Many victims are afraid to report, out of fear of the consequences. Therefor it is not clear how big the problem is exactly. That is why the municipality will carry out a follow-up study into recruitment practices at educational institutions in Rotterdam, the city with one of the biggest ports in Europe.

Schools are an important place where recruitment takes place. “This can be in practical education or secondary schools, but even in primary education.”
More and more young people in Rotterdam are being recruited for all kinds of crime. Especially young people who empty containers with drugs for a fee, so-called ‘snatchers’, are a major problem.

“Most have no idea what the consequences are if they step into this world. If the young person thinks: I have now earned thirty thousand euros by emptying a few containers and that is enough, the drug scene says: no, we want more of you. Professional criminals are in the neighbourhood 24/7, they know where your mother lives. Or they show a photo of your sister or brother. That is very intimidating.”

Chat About It!

It is important for young people who are being exploited that they can get help. That is why the municipality is also starting a campaign together to help victims of criminal or sexual exploitation. Via (chat-about-it) a link opens an external page, young people can chat anonymously with social workers about their situation and – if they wish – come into contact with the police. People who are concerned about someone in their environment who may be exploited can also chat here. The municipality hopes that victims will take the first step to get out of their situation. For many young people, that threshold is huge, Chat About It! helps them with that.

Source:, June 2023