Using a computer-generated 10-year-old Filipino girl named Sweetie, the Dutch rights group Terre des Hommes attracted over 1000 adults willing to pay children in developing countries to perform sex acts on a webcam.
Researchers in Amsterdam sought potential predators in public online chat rooms. In a very short period of time, over 20 000 people from over 65 countries approached the virtual 10-year-old, asking for webcam sex performances.
While the adults interacted with the virtual girl, the researchers gathered information about them through social media to uncover their identities.
The group says it plans to hand over video of the adults to law enforcement authorities.
Terre des Hommes said the crimes represent a “largely unknown, but quickly spreading new form of child exploitation.” The group added that “webcam child sex tourism is as devastating to the victims as physical abuse.”
The group said that while webcam child sex tourism is banned by most national and international laws, only 6 perpetrators worldwide have been convicted of this crime.
“It is not a problem of existing laws,” says Hans Guyt, director of campaigns at Terre des Hommes Netherlands. “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.”
Guyt said getting a child to testify is “almost an impossible thing to do,” adding he’d like to see governments adopt proactive investigation policies that give law enforcement agencies the mandate to actively patroling public Internet hotspots where this child abuse takes place every day.
“The child predators doing this now feel that the law doesn’t apply to them,” he said. “The Internet is free, but not lawless.”
The group estimates that at any given time, there are 750,000 child predators online.
The number of children exploited through webcam child sex tourism is expected to rise due to the global demand of predators, and as growing access to cheap Internet in developing countries is making it easier to exploit children online.