AMSTERDAM, The Netherlands, November 15, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The requests come in by the dozens the moment the little girl signs on: Grown men, lurking in chat rooms, hoping she’ll give them a show. Her screenname is “10 f Philippines,” a reference to her age, sex, and location. From all over the world, men send her private messages:
“Hi sexy girl.”
“Are u aware of underage sex?”
“I want ur show will pay whatever.”
“If your mother is there she can join.”
This is webcam child sex tourism, and it’s one of the fastest-growing criminal enterprises in the world.
Young, impoverished children in developing nations are sent into chat rooms where wealthy Western men lie in wait, willing and able to pay money to watch them be sexually abused. Some of the children are sex slaves, victims of human trafficking. Others are simply poor enough and desperate enough to agree to abuse themselves or be abused by others on camera in exchange for a few dollars that might help meet their struggling families’ needs.
“Sweetie” is different. She is not enslaved, poor, or a victim. Her sole reason for existence is to talk to these men. It’s what she was created for. She talks to them by the hundreds, day after day, and what’s more, she doesn’t mind it. She’s not even aware of it. That’s because “Sweetie” is not real.
“Sweetie” (full name: Sweetie_1000) is a virtual construct, a computer-generated 3D image being controlled by a group of activists and researchers in an Amsterdam industrial warehouse. The group, called Terre des Hommes, created her to combat webcam child sex tourism, which they say is a fast-growing problem that must be stopped before it gets too big to bring down.
“If we don’t intervene soon, this sinister phenomenon will totally run out of control,” Has Guyt, the group’s spokesman, told the Associated Press. “It’s still not too late. Our worst scenario is that the same thing will happen with this as has happened with child pornography — that is now a multibillion-dollar industry in the hands of criminal gangs.”
Using “Sweetie” as bait, the group has identified 1,000 online predators, all of whom expressed willingness to pay for an online sex show from what they believed was a girl between the ages of nine and 12, and handed their personal data over to Interpol. The alleged predators were identified using a combination of personal information they willingly offered researchers posing as “Sweetie” during the course of their chats, and freely available information researchers were subsequently able to find online, such as social media accounts and discussion forum postings.
But the researchers said the 1,000 people whose identities were uncovered and turned over to authorities represent only a fraction of those who attempted to solicit “Sweetie” for sex acts on video. In total, during the first ten weeks of the project, “Sweetie” was contacted by 20,172 people, all hoping to see her sexually exploited . Their numbers overwhelmed the researchers, who were forced to ignore the vast majority of requests in order to focus on the 1,000 they were able to identify.
The group says their effort proves that in the hands of law enforcement officers and governments with greater resources, “Sweetie” could be a valuable tool to crack down on webcam child sex tourism – something that Guyt argues is shockingly under-prosecuted.
According to Guyt, despite the fact that webcam child sex tourism is illegal almost everywhere, only six perpetrators worldwide have ever been convicted.
“It is not a problem of existing laws” Guyt said in a statement. “The United Nations has established laws that make this child abuse nearly universally illegal. The biggest problem is that the police don’t take action until child victims file reports, but children almost never report these crimes.”
Guyt explained, “These children are usually forced to do this by adults or by extreme poverty. Sometimes they have to testify against their own family, which is almost an impossible thing to do for a child.”
Guyt says he hopes Terre des Hommes’ work with “Sweetie” will serve as a model for law enforcement agencies worldwide to begin dealing with the problem of webcam child sex tourism.
“We want governments to adopt proactive investigation policies that give law enforcement agencies the mandate to actively patrol public Internet hotspots where this child abuse is taking place every day,” Guyt said. “The child predators doing this now feel that the law doesn’t apply.”
The researchers who participated in the “Sweetie” project agree. “The findings of our research suggest that the risk perception among predators seeking [webcam child sex tourism] is incredibly low,” the researchers stated in their report. “Predators seem to believe that online chat rooms are lawless spaces on which they can abuse children with impunity.”
The transcripts provided by Terre des Hommes are tough reading. One 40-year-old American man using the handle “Candy man” began his chat with “Sweetie” by asking her age, sex, and location, using the common chat code “asl.”
Candy man: asl?
10 f phil: 10 f phillipines … u?
Candy man: Wow. I’m 40/usa/man … cam [camera]?
10 f phil: what u want to see on cam?
Candy man: you … naked … if your mother is there she can join.
“Sweetie” told the man her mother wasn’t there, but she would take her clothes off on camera for money. The man agreed to a price of $3for 10 minutes of video.
Researchers say no money ever changed hands in the course of their project. After the men (all but one of the identified predators were male) agreed to pay the child, the conversations were dropped. But researchers used the time spent negotiating over price to fish for information about their target, compiling a dossier of the kind of easily searchable, legally available public information that the internet has made freely accessible to the world.
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In the vast majority of cases, “Sweetie” never actually appeared on screen; all negotiations were made within the chat room. But for those who needed a little extra convincing, “Sweetie” proved remarkably effective.
“Predators appeared to be totally trusting of Sweetie,” reported Terre des Hommes. “When the researchers interacted with predators without using Sweetie, predators often expressed the suspicion that the researchers were homosexual adult males trying to watch other men [pleasure themselves] on camera. Another commonly expressed suspicion was that the researchers were trying to gather information and video footage of men in compromising positions in order to blackmail them. Surprisingly, though, predators never expressed the suspicion that the researchers were law enforcement officers.”
“Upon seeing Sweetie, however, predators lost all inhibitions to share information…On average, it took approximately one minute of showing Sweetie on webcam before predators would provide enough information with which researchers could identify them.”
But the group emphasized strongly that they were able to collect enough data about 980 attempted predators to conclusively identify them without ever resorting to putting “Sweetie” on display. According to Terre des Hommes, this proves “predators can easily be identified using low-tech pro-active investigation techniques, even with very few resources.”
For more about the “Sweetie” project and webcam child sex tourism:
Watch a documentary on the project.
Read the report.
Sign the petition.