General information about "loverboys"

A "loverboy", also called a "Romeo pimp", is a young man who fakes a romantic relationship with a usually younger woman or girl (sometimes as young as 11 or 12). He manipulates her emotionally, isolates her socially and forces her into prostitution. He uses drugs, violence and threats to keep her in check.

According to the "Bundeslagebild Menschenhandel und Ausbeutung“ (Federal Situation Report on Human Trafficking and Exploitation) of the Federal Criminal Police Office, 22.2% of victims of human trafficking for sexual exploitation in 2019 were German, and 94.8% of all victims were female. Of these, 32.5% were under the age of 21[1]. According to the expertise on the topic of "German trafficked persons" by the nationwide "Koordinierungskreis gegen Menschenhandel e.V." (KOK), a large proportion of trafficked persons reported "loverboy" relationships or similar emotional and psychological dependencies.[2]

This tactic of luring girls and women into prostitution has been around for a long time and is common throughout the world. Although the phenomenon has received more attention in the media for some time, awareness of the "loverboy" method among young people remains low. We want to inform and educate children and young people to protect themselves from becoming victims of these traffickers. 

[1] The number of German victims discovered by the police only represents a small percentage. It can be assumed that the number of unreported cases is significantly higher. Bundeslagebild Menschenhandel,S. 13

[2] Müller-Güldemeister, Susanne: Expertise on the topic of German victims of human trafficking.. Federal Coordination Group against Trafficking in Women and Violence against Women in the Migration Process e.V., S.21, 05.12.2011.

 What is a "loverboy"?



"Loverboys" are usually young men between the ages of 18 and 30. As a rule, they are older than their victims. They often have their first contact with prostitution, drugs and trafficking at an early age through relatives or friends and are trained by them. Some “loverboys” work alone and learn on the job

To lure the girls, the "loverboys" use an old trick: love. They are masters of psychology and manipulation. Media reports and statements by survivors give the impression that "loverboys" exclusively have migrant backgrounds. However, there are no figures or studies that prove this. Of course, a migrant background among "loverboys" cannot be ruled out, but it has no significance for the problem itself. It is clear that "loverboys" often come from socially marginalized groups and may have connections to motorcycle gangs and specific sport clubs (i.e. martial arts).

How to recognize if somebody is being abused by a "loverboy"?

Victims of "loverboys" often go through significant change. They may suffer from depression and severe mood swings or be insecure and have unrealistically low self-esteem. They seem to have no identity of their own and are often aggressive towards their families. They may be tired all the time, possibly emaciated and have bruises on their arms and back where they are easy to hide.

Behavioural changes

Their style of dressing changes dramatically. They often wear heavy make-up and tend to engage in self-harming behaviour. Particularly obvious signs are the possession of several mobile phones or prepaid cards. They are always on their phones, because the "loverboy" is constantly checking on them and they always have to be at his beck and call. A clear indication can also be frequent and very long showers. In addition, trafficked persons often have difficulty talking about prostitution and project what is happening to them onto another person.

Increasing isolation

Later on, their performance at school also deteriorates, truancy becomes an issue and they develop a tendency to run away. Increasing use of alcohol and drugs, new contacts, often with older boys or men, cutting off friendships or refusing to visit grandparents or other family members, may also indicate that a person is a victim of a "loverboy". Another clue may be that they are often taken to school or picked up by the young man in his car.

Indications of danger

Some of these changes may also indicate other forms of sexual abuse. Normal hormonal fluctuations and changes during puberty can also cause some of these behaviours to occur. However, if several of these signs are present, it can be an indication that the girl is already a victim of a "loverboy" or is in great danger of becoming a victim.

Women sometimes don't report their "loverboy"

- out of fear of him (e.g. use of violence, publication of their involuntary sex videos, etc.)
- out of shame, they think they have voluntarily chosen prostitution, so they are to blame for their situation themselves
- because they still love him and want to protect him
- because they cannot believe that everything was really a lie
- because they are traumatised

They need extra support!


Often it is difficult for outsiders to understand why those affected do not simply leave. The psychology behind the method is very perfidious and difficult to understand for anyone affected (including parents, friends, etc.). In addition, those affected are sometimes bound to the "loverboy" by trauma in the later stages. Trauma is also described as a severe psychological injury and is triggered by experiences in which one feels absolutely at the mercy of someone else. One no longer has any control and fears for one's life and/or physical integrity. In a so-called "trauma bond", those affected react psychologically to the abuse they have experienced by bonding even more intensely with the "loverboy", because he is the only constant in the terrible moment. Because of the previously established relationship and because he is her (sometimes only remaining) "caregiver", she projects hope onto him. He often quickly switches from aggression and violence back to care and affection, lulling her into a sense of security. His manipulation is often described as "carrot and stick". It is a vicious circle of insecurity but also comfort through the relationship, which makes it difficult for those affected to disengage. More information on trauma bonding is e.g. available at (only available in German).

Can boys become victims, too?

Boys are usually not targeted victims of sexual exploitation by "loverboys", but they too can be victimized. The process of getting to know each other is similar to that of girls. They are then manipulated into courier services for drugs or weapons or have to make contact with girls. Some know what they are doing, others do not. They too can have an emotionally ambivalent relationship with the "loverboys" and may be addicted to drugs. They may be emotionally dependent on their friendship with the “loverboy”, whom they see as a role model and thus want to live up to his expectations.
So far, few cases of homosexual "loverboy" relationships are known, yet this is also possible. There is very little information about boys who become "loverboy" victims.