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A not-so-sweet time for predators

Jim Willis Modified: November 6, 2013 at 3:00 pm •  Published: November 6, 2013
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Several years ago I focused a blog post on a movie called, SimOne, about a beautiful woman (ostensible named Simone but who was really Simulation One) who captured the moviegoing public.

There was only one problem: She wasn’t real. She was a digital creation of a down-and-out movie director who was trying to salvage his career.

Exit the world of make-believe and enter the world of reality, albeit one which utilizes virtual reality to reach a loftier goal.

A Terre des Hommes researcher points to one of the chat sessions in a public chat room where users try and contact purported 10-year-old Sweetie from the Philippines, upper left in a computer-generated image, during a media opportunity in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Monday Nov. 4, 2013. The Dutch children’s rights organization is warning of an epidemic of children being paid to perform sexual acts via webcams and is urging police and politicians around the world to crack down on the practice. Terre des Hommes, a Dutch-based organization that battles to stop child exploitation around the world, said Monday that to gauge the scale of the problem it created a fake 10-year-old  girl called Sweetie and she was bombarded with online offers to pay for webcam sex shows by child predators from around the world. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)
A Terre des Hommes researcher points to one of the chat sessions in a public chat room where users try and contact purported 10-year-old Sweetie from the Philippines, upper left in a computer-generated image, during a media opportunity in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Monday Nov. 4, 2013. The Dutch children’s rights organization is warning of an epidemic of children being paid to perform sexual acts via webcams and is urging police and politicians around the world to crack down on the practice. Terre des Hommes, a Dutch-based organization that battles to stop child exploitation around the world, said Monday that to gauge the scale of the problem it created a fake 10-year-old girl called Sweetie and she was bombarded with online offers to pay for webcam sex shows by child predators from around the world. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

Enter ‘Sweetie’

Recently a Dutch charity, focused on trapping online sex offenders who target kids, created their own virtual beauty, although she is a child and not a grown woman. The young girl’s picture was posted online, and 1,000 suspected child sex predators were identified worldwide, as a result.

NPR explains, “A Dutch charity that aims to expose and end ‘webcam child sex tourism’ says it lured tens of thousands of men from around the world to a website where they asked a lifelike, computer-generated 10-year-old Filipino girl named Sweetie to perform sex acts for money.”

Chalk up a win for the social media, an institution which is more maligned for the culture it is creating rather than the good it can do in the world.

20,000 approaches

NBC News reports that the charity, Terre des Hommes, said about 20,000 people (mostly men) made online approaches to Sweetie over a period of ten weeks from April to June of this year. The charity turned the names over to Interpol because the predators came from 71 different nations.

The three countries providing the most predators were the U.S. (254), the U.K. (110), and India (103).

“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,” CBS News has reported.

Advocating for kids

The Terre des Hommes International Federation describes itself this way, ” A network of ten national organisations working for the rights of children and to promote equitable development without racial, religious, political, cultural or gender-based discrimination.”

NPR states, “Terre des Hommes defines webcam child sex tourism as ‘when adults pay to direct and view live-streaming video footage of children in another country performing sexual acts in front of a webcam.’”

The charity adds:

“Sometimes parents or family members coerce children to engage in WCST. Sometimes children are trafficked and held captive in ‘dens’ with other kids who are forced to perform sexual acts in front of webcams. Sometimes child prostitutes sell webcam sex shows to predators around the world in order to supplement the income they make through street prostitution.

“Based on our research and the findings of Terre des Hommes Netherlands’ partners in the field, the age of child victims of WCST ranges from 6 to 17 years old.”

Legal questions

There are legal problems — or at least questions — associated with sting operations like this. We saw some of them played out around the country after NBC’s “Dateline” ran several episodes of “To Catch a Predator” years ago. Entrapment is at the top of that list. Another that comes to mind is the question of whether there is any law against engaging online with a digital image.

Those questions aside, the goal of using a digitalized “child” to identify child predators around the world is a praiseworthy one. Even if prosecutions are not pursued or are not successful, it puts another obstacle in the path of those who would target kids for their own perverse pleasure.