Enlisting the help of a computer-generated 10-year-old Philippine girl, Dutch children's rights activists turned online sex predators into their prey.
In an online sting operated from an anonymous warehouse office in an
The result was shocking, the group's director of projects, Has Guyt, said Monday at the tiny
"If we don't intervene soon, this sinister phenomenon will totally run out of control," Guyt said as he stood in front of a wall plastered with the pixelated faces of adults duped by the 3D digital animated girl that Terre des Hommes dubbed Sweetie.
Guyt said webcam sex with minors - which usually involves men from wealthy Western countries paying children from impoverished countries for sex shows - is "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."
Terre des Hommes has posted a documentary about its 10-week investigation on YouTube and begun a petition aimed at pressing police and politicians to do more to halt such illegal sex shows.
"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.
Terre des Hommes' novel approach involved using Sweetie as an online disguise for a group of researchers who then chatted to potential clients online.
"We were swamped by men looking for contact, looking for sexual activities with us," Guyt said.
During a demonstration for
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 to a
Guyt said Terre des Hommes, using basic research techniques and not hacking, was able to identify 1,000 adults from 71 countries who solicited Sweetie. The group did not identify any of them to media but passed the results of its investigation to
The top country of origin for the adults identified was
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
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
Terre des Hommes wants to bring that message to a wider audience, using the Internet to spread the word.
"We have to make sure the world community understands the scale and nature of this phenomenon," Guyt said.
Dutch children's rights activists used Sweetie, a 3D digital animated girl, as an online disguise for a group of researchers who then chatted online to potential clients - sexual predators.
Using basic research techniques and not hacking, Terre des Hommes was able to identify 1,000 adults from 71 countries who solicited Sweetie.