Terre des Hommes a Dutch child protection organisation has managed to snare over 20,000 child sex predators in just over two months with the help of ‘Sweetie’ a computer generated 10 year old Filipino girl as bait.
The technologically advanced sting operation gathered the Skype and social media details of 20,000 would-be sex predators – mostly men and some women – all over the world by setting up a fake profile on sex websites and chat rooms. Of those 20,000 people, 999 men and one woman offered to pay for sex acts with 254 from the US, 110 were from the UK and 103 were from India.
The project started after the sobering realisation that even though online child sex tourism is illegal only six perpetrators have ever been convicted of the crime. Using motion capture technology software and a webcam, Terre des Hommes (TDH) researchers in a warehouse in Amsterdam controlled Sweetie’s facial expressions and movements as she chatted online.
While some may claim entrapment, project director Hans Guyt states they never propositioned anyone first or used hacking to gain personal information. The offenders readily supplied their Skype handles, phone numbers, pictures, social media information and video footage. “We identified ourselves as 10-year-old Filipino girls,” the the group said. “We did not solicit anything unless it was offered to us.” Europol the European Policing Agency did not agree with their methods stating “We believe that criminal investigations using intrusive surveillance measures should be the exclusive responsibility of law enforcement agencies.”
Bait and trap methods will always be a hotly debated subject and an ethical/moral grey area, but, when the traditional methods of policing are failing that charities such as TDH take things into their own hands to successfully raise awareness, one has to ask: how can that be a bad thing?
TDH managing director Albert Jaap van Santbrink doesn’t want to point fingers or blame the law. “It is not a problem of existing laws, 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. 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. 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.”
TDH have since handed all their findings and technology to Interpol and Sweetie is now retired.