Virtual Filipina kid lures 1,000 ‘sexual predators’ worldwide
More than 1,000 “sexual predators” around the world have been identified by a Dutch organization after it created a computer-generated image of a 10-year-old Filipina girl specifically developed to entice and pinpoint potential cyber sex customers and phedophiles online.
Through the 3D digital animated girl they called ‘Sweetie,’ Netherland-based Terre des Hommes, a Dutch children’s rights activist group, unmasked 1,000 adults who are willing to pay money in exchange for sexual acts via webcam, raising the issue of “largely unknown, but quickly spreading new form of child exploitation,” it said.
Together with Avaaz.org, Terre des Hommes carried out its “online sting” from an anonymous warehouse office in an Amsterdam industrial park to gauge the scale of a fast-growing Internet phenomenon they call webcam child sex tourism.
The result was shocking and Terre des Hommes posted a documentary about its 10-week investigation on YouTube (youtube.com/sweetie) and begun a petition aimed at pressing police and politicians to do more to halt such illegal sex shows.
From a remote building in Amsterdam, Terre des Hommes researchers operated a chat room posing ‘Sweetie’ as a possible sex prospect. In a very short period, more than 20,000 “predators” from around the world “approached” the virtual 10- year-old Filipina, asking for webcam sex performances.
Using basic research techniques and not hacking, Terre des Hommes was able to identify 1,000 adults from 71 countries who solicited Sweetie. The top country of origin for the adults identified was the United States with 254 people, followed by Britain with 110 and India with 103, Terre des Hommes said in a statement.
“While the adults interacted with the virtual girl, the researchers gathered information about them through social media to uncover their identities,” it said. While it did not explain why it chose a Filipina child as a virtual cybersex victim, it reported that “tens of thousands” of Filipinas are victimized in the new form of child exploitation and slavery which it called as “webcam child sex tourism.”
Moreover, Unicef Philippines reported that over one million children are victims of sexual exploitation in the world every year, citing the growing ease of travel as a factor that has lured “child-sex predators into less developed countries including the Philippines,” and “made children more vulnerable to this modern form of slavery.”
‘Devastating as physical abuse’
But aside from the physical abuse, further studies by Terre des Hommes show that webcam child sex tourism “is as devastating to the victims as physical abuse.”
Victims suffer from low self-esteem and low feelings of self worth and showing symptoms of post-traumatic stress, it said.
“They often feel ashamed and guilty about the things they do and they exhibit self-destructive behavior, like using alcohol or drugs to relax and escape from their problems,” the child rights’ group said. With the results of its research, Terre des Hommes urges the government worldwide to adopt proactive investigation policies involving cases of child exploitation, fearing that the numbers of victims worldwide will continue to rise.
The online sting managed to turn online sex predators into their prey. In an interview with Associated Press, Hans Guyt, Terre des Hommes director of projects, said “If we don’t intervene soon, this sinister phenomenon will totally run out of control.” His office had a wall of pixelated photos of adults duped by Sweetie.
He said webcam sex with minors — which usually involves men from wealthy Western countries paying children from impoverished countries for sex shows — is still “a cottage industry” and needs to be stamped out now.
“It’s still not too late,” Guyt said. “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.”
“We do not need more laws … present legislation is suitable and more than enough to cover these acts,” Guyt said as he called for a “novel approach” to policing the problem.
During a demonstration for AP early Monday, one of the researchers logged into a public chat room as Sweetie — identifying himself by her purported age, gender and country of origin. Seconds later, multiple pop-up dialogue boxes began appearing on his screen from people using pseudonyms and soliciting a girl who had clearly identified herself as 10 years old.
One chat between the researcher identifying himself as Sweetie and one of the online users went like this:
Sweetie: “What you want see?”
Sweetie: “What u pay for?”
As the conversation progressed, they agreed a $20 fee to be paid by a wire transfer and Sweetie asked for the person’s Skype address, but took the chat no further.
The group did not identify any of them to media, but passed the results of its investigation to Interpol. It remains to be seen if any of the people identified will be prosecuted, but the research demonstrated that it is relatively easy to find and identify such adults.
Terre des Hommes has for years worked to combat child prostitution in Southeast Asia and staff members noticed in recent years that sex tourists no longer have to leave their homes to exploit children, thanks to the proliferation of high-speed Internet connections, Guyt said.
He said child prostitutes, and in some cases children forced by their own impoverished parents, offer to perform sex acts online in return for money. Once payment has been received, often via an online money transfer service, they will perform in front of a webcam with the images sent via a private chat room.
The problem of online child exploitation is not new. A United Nations investigator said in 2009 that more than 750,000 people are using child pornography sites at any one time. But the exploitation is being facilitated as the world increasingly becomes interconnected.
Executive Director of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, Yury Fedotov, told a meeting in September in Vienna that, “the digital age has exacerbated the problem and created more vulnerability to children.” (with reports from MIKE CORDER, Associated Press)