As a minor, how quickly do you get a paedophile among your message requests on Instagram?

How safe is the Internet for minors? I investigated by making a fake profile on Instagram as 14- year-old Marieke Verstraeten. About 24 hours later, I received a message in my message requests from a 50-year-old man from Ghent. He wanted to build a friendship, but he soon took it a few steps further. Elke Van Roy, Belgian psychologist and former expertise in the domain of child abuse: ‘The ease and speed with which this person turns an innocent ‘friends requestinto an overt sexual conversation is alarming.’

3 December 2021

‘I created a fake profile as fourteen-year-old Marieke Verstraeten. My bio clearly stated that I am from 2007. To make my profile realistic, I had to gather followers and post some photos. The photos I used were always very anonymous, without a face. All I had to do was wait.’

4 December 2021 – 13:17

‘Just after noon, I received an ‘innocent’ message in my requests. ‘Hello, tell me more about you’, an unknown man sent. It took less than 24 hours for someone to bite. I responded like an ignorant minor. Soon he wanted to know more like my age, where I was from, if I was single and if I could send a picture. I answered all the questions and also made it clear that I was fourteen. He gave me the option of leaving me alone but I responded that it was up to him to make that decision. He then wanted to get to know me better and possibly start a friendship. Suddenly, he gave me a first compliment.’

4 December 2021 – 13:42

‘Suddenly, he asked what my parents would think of me chatting with older people. He repeated his age, stressing out to be already fifty. I asked him if he likes younger girls. At first, he denies that he is into younger girls to start a relationship and that it’s just for chatting.’

4 December 2021 – 13:48

‘He started asking me all kinds of questions and also gives me the opportunity to ask him questions. I seized the opportunity and I also asked him personal questions. I asked him why he is interested in a friendship with me. Then he opens up and says that he likes someone who is handsome.’

4 December 2021 – 14:07

‘At a certain point, I asked him where he hoped that these chats would lead to.he hoped . He told me that if he were younger, he would like to have a relationship with me, but that the age difference stands in the way. He then made it clear that he wouldn’t mind and that it would have to happen in secret. I got the impression that he was very aware of what he was doing.Suddenly he goes two steps further and tells me what he would like to do with me. I still react in an ignorant way.’

4 December 2021 – 14:40

‘He told me that he has a son of his own. I quickly reminded him that I am only fourteen. He says it’s not prosecutableas long as there is a clear mutual consent. I pretended to be very ignorant, and asked him again just to be sure. His answer remains that it is not prosecutable.. Soon, he asked me if I am happy at home, trying to build up some kind of trust. I triedto give him the impression that I am vulnerable.’

4 December 2021 – 22:54

‘In the meantime, he has kept sending me messages, even though I did not always respond to him immediately. He already calls me his sweetheart and repeatedly asks me to Skype. I always manage to block these requests. Late in the evening, when are sending e-mails again and he asks me if we could meet. He makes sexual comments hereby explicitely stating what he would like to do with me. I tell him that I have never done those things with anyone and that I am a virgin. I explicitly ask him if that wouldn’t hurt and even then he assures me it wouldn’t.’

‘At that moment, we have taken many steps forward in the conversation in one day. His intentions of starting a friendship had turned into the desire te build a sexual relationship. It had only been 48 hours since w-I had created this fake Instagram account.’

Elke Van Roy: ‘This article clearly shows the transgressive behaviour of an adult or at least a profile pretending to be an adult. There is an inequality concerning age, power and maturity. The ease and speed with which this person turns an innocent ‘friends requestinto an overt sexual conversation is alarming. This type of transgressive behaviour is called grooming, the online approaching of children under 16, intended to sexually abuse these minor. In 2020 there were 148 reports of grooming in Belgium. It shows how important it is to invest in the prevention of transgressive behaviour, in any form, starting from a very young age. Belgium has got excellent packages to educate parents, teachers, professionals as well as youngsters to learn how to recognise and appropriately respond to different kinds of unacceptable behaviour. Although obvious I would also recommend to make sure the author of this article is cannot be linked to the fake profile she used in this investigation.’ 

‘I can only conclude that based on this experience, paedophiles clearly know what they are doing. They know how to play youngsters, carefully building trust. My investigation ends here.I have reported this to the police. After an hour and a half in the interrogation room, an official report was filed against the man. He will be summoned After sending screenshots of the conversations to the police, I will delete my fake profile.’

Text: Kylie Vanderhulst, Final editor: Zoë Van Schooten

Photo: StockSnap via Pixabay