Who is Stephen De Groot?
ANATOMY OF AN ALLEGED CHILD MOLESTER
HE arrived in Cebu just a month ago supposedly for vacation and a business transaction but instead preyed on young girls.
Upon his arrival, Stephen De Groot, a Dutch national who grew up in The Netherlands, rented an apartment in Barangay Mohon, Talisay City, for $187, or about P9,900 per month, records obtained by the police said.
During that short stay, De Groot, 52, allegedly went on a child pornography binge – taking numerous lewd photos of girls aged 13 to 16 and storing them on his cellphone; and worse, luring these girls into having sex with him in exchange for money and phones.
But when De Groot was finally caught last Wednesday, thanks to suspicious neighbors, there was not a single lewd photo of minors on his phone. The memory card of the digital camera found inside Groot’s house was also missing.
Police were now banking on the statements of four girls aged 13 to 16 who told the police their photos in various lewd poses and acts that were taken by De Groot.
They also admitted to engaging in sexual acts with the foreigner in exchange for cash and gadgets.
“We’re getting his background. It’s the first time we met him here,” said Chief Insp. Ardy Cabagnot, deputy chief of the Talisay Police Station, who led the operation.
Cabagnot said the foreigner may have deleted the lewd photos on his cell phone and removed the memory card on his digicam when he sensed that policemen were outside the apartment at around 3 a.m. on Wednesday.
The police official said they were, however, looking for the suspect’s iPad which, according to the rescued children, contained their photos.
“We have to locate that. But for now, we have to file the cases (and present the evidence that we now have),” Cabagnot said.
Charges for violating Republic Act 10364 or the Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2012 and rape were filed against De Groot at the Talisay City Prosecutor’s Office.
The victims’ sworn statement, the specific contents of which were kept confidential, were the primary evidence of the police.
When presented before the prosecutor on Thursday, De Groot opted not to undergo a preliminary investigation, which could have given him the chance to submit a counter-affidavit and refute the allegations.
This prompted the Talisay City Prosecutor’s Office to elevate the charges against De Groot to the Regional Trial Court.
Since the victims were minors, the case falls under qualified trafficking — a non-bailable offense.
De Groot, who is temporarily detained at the Talisay City Police Station stockade, is set to be turned over to the Talisay City Jail next week.
Cebu Daily News tried to get a statement from him but he refused.
“I’m sorry, I don’t want to say anything,” he said.
Cabagnot said De Groot did not specify what kind of business he was doing in Cebu.
“But he said he’s been going to Manila and other parts of the world,” he added.
Cabagnot said they will coordinate with the Bureau of Immigration to verify De Groot’s background.
In the face of advances in technology, Cabagnot called on parents to be vigilant and to monitor their children in order not to be victimized by sexual predators who lure them with money or gadgets.
“You may have no idea that your children are already exposed to cyberpornography or exploited sexually,” he said.
“As parents, it is our obligation to take care of our children. Hence, I appeal to you to look after them,” he added.
Cabagnot said a mother of one of the victims sought their help after the teenage girl went missing earlier that night.
Neighbors of De Groot, he said, also complained about young girls going in and out of the suspect’s home.
When the policemen went to De Groot’s apartment, they found the four girls inside.
They didn’t catch the suspect sexually abusing the girls. But the victims confessed that they were asked to pose naked and do lewd acts by the suspect, said Cabagnot.
The four rescued victims are now under the custody of social workers for proper intervention.
Cabagnot said De Groot came to Talisay City and rented an apartment last September.
He stayed there for 40 days before he was arrested at around 3 a.m. on Wednesday.
Investigators begged off from revealing other details about De Groot while the investigation continues, particularly since it involved minors.
“What you are doing is a serious offense. We, the police, are serious and there will be no letup in our campaign against cyberpornography,” he said.
Cyberpornography has been prevalent in the Philippines and poses serious threats to families and children.
“It’s very alarming and it’s getting larger at the threshold,” said Francis Señora, senior agent of the National Bureau of Investigation in Central Visayas (NBI-7) Cybercrime Department.
Fueled by lust and the desire for “easy money,” he said people engage in cyberpornography.
“Child pornography is an industry, and people are earning money. Children are made to believe that there’s nothing wrong with it,” Señora said.
In an earlier interview, lawyer John Tanagho, field office director of the International Justice Mission in Cebu, said the state of online sexual exploitation of children, otherwise known as cyberpornography, is very disturbing.
He said that on average, the Department of Justice’s Cybercrime Office receives over 2,600 “cybertip” referrals of different forms of online sexual exploitation each month.
“It is not just nude photos as some think. Online sexual exploitation of children involves the actual sexual abuse of children. Young Filipino children have been molested and sexually abused by adults, forced to have sex with other children, made to use sex toys to portray sex acts, made to touch themselves, and other sexually explicit conduct,” Tanagho said.
Instead of using laptop computers, people who are into cyberpornography have shifted to using cellular phones to make it more difficult for law enforcers to track them down while shooting the live lewd acts.
Although technology makes it harder for authorities to combat cyber pornography, Tanagho said they continue to collaborate with international law enforcement agencies in the investigation of cases involving online sexual exploitation and abuse of children throughout the Philippines.
“Effective law enforcement stops criminals and protects children from online sexual exploitation,” he said.
Disclaimer: The comments uploaded on this site do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of management and owner of Cebudailynews. We reserve the right to exclude comments that we deem to be inconsistent with our editorial standards.