As the trial of alleged pedophile and murderer Marc Dutroux
stretches into its second week, attention has focused on the
Belgian's claim that he was merely one cog in a network of highly
placed child molesters who have been protected by a police cover-
It is an allegation that echoes loudly in a number of other
European countries, where investigators have recently turned up
evidence that pedophilia is a wider and deeper problem than the
authorities have been willing to admit.
In Portugal, 10 people, including a former cabinet minister and a
former ambassador, are awaiting trial on pedophilia charges linked
to a children's home scandal that appears to have been swept under
the carpet for decades.
In the Czech Republic, a recent report by the UN Children's Fund
(UNICEF) revealed that children as young as 6 are openly selling
sexual services to tourists who pick them up at shopping malls and
gas stations near the German border.
And 10 days ago, police across northern Europe launched dawn
raids on nearly 50 homes and businesses, smashing a number of
Internet child pornography networks that had escaped similar
operations in 2002 and 2003.
"You can't say that when you dismantle one or two or three rings
the problem ceases to exist," says Evangelos Stergioulis, a
spokesman for Europol, the European Union agency coordinating the
fight against international crime. "Our investigations will never
end. One case will lead to another."
The Dutroux case dragged on for eight years before coming to
trial, and "the inefficiency of the police went beyond normal
stupidity," says Anne-Marie Lizin, a Belgian senator. The
investigators' blunders - including a search of the house where
Dutroux had entombed two young girls in a cellar without finding
them - have fed widespread suspicions in Belgium of a deliberate
Dutroux is charged with the abduction, rape, and murder of four
girls and young women in the early 1990s, and with the abduction and
rape of two others who were eventually found alive in the cell he
had constructed in his basement. He has pleaded not guilty to
murder, and claimed last week in court that he was part of "a big
crime ring" which he supplied with girls.
Widespread suspicions and persisting silence
Forensic evidence pointing to the presence of people other than
Dutroux and his wife in the dungeon was not investigated until two
years ago, and will not be brought up at the current trial, the
investigating judge has decided.
"There are two hypotheses," says Marc Reisinger, president of For
the Truth, a civic group that is angry at the way the Dutroux case
has been handled. "Either Dutroux was an isolated criminal, or he
was part of a more organized network. The investigation stopped at
the doorstep to this question, and the case is based on the
hypothesis that he acted on his own."
Nearly 70 percent of Belgians believe Dutroux acted for others,
and only 4 percent believe the current trial will reveal the whole
truth of the affair, recent opinion polls have shown. Suspicions
that well-known figures may have been involved in pedophile crimes
are widespread, both because a small-time businessman with
connections in top political circles is on trial with Dutroux,
charged with kidnapping one girl, and because a senior politician
connected to the case died in mysterious circumstances some years