A computer generated avatar of a girl child, code named “Sweetie,” has caught at least 20,000 men who tried to contact her to perform sex acts for them online. The operation was run from Amsterdam on behalf of children’s rights charity Terre des Hommes, who have said they want to use this sting to begin a global initiative to put an end to “webcam sex tourism.”
“Sweetie” an incredibly lifelike 10-year-old Filipina child, was offered money by many of the men who wanted her to perform for them. In some instances, she was asked if she had a younger sister. The names of all the men have been handed over to the police in all countries implicated. Identities may be possible to be sourced through social media and Skype accounts.
The director of the 10-week project, conducted from a warehouse on the outskirts of Amsterdam, is Hans Guyt. He told a news conference that this crime is rife and urgently needs “a new way of policing.”
Although CGI “Sweetie” has been enormously successful in acting as online bait to trap thousands of these predators and pedophiles, some law enforcers disagree, in principle, with the problem of child sex abuse being tackled by non specialists. Europol spokesman Soren Pedersen made this comment to Reuters, ”We believe that criminal investigations using intrusive surveillance measures should be the exclusive responsibility of law enforcement agencies.” His words were closely echoed by Andy Baker from UK Crime Agency, nevertheless he had praise for the efforts of Terre des Hommes, and also said it had “widened awareness” through its “Sweetie” campaign. They will be closely studying all the information handed over to them. The computer sting could well lead to the apprehension of thousands of online sexual perverts, preying on children.
Angus Crawford, a BBC reporter, visited the warehouse to observe the sting take place. He was amazed to see, within seconds of logging on to the fake profile, how many requests flooded in. They came in from all corners of the globe, but of the 1,000 hits he witnessed, 254 came in from America, 110 from the United Kingdom and 103 from India. There was no discernible patterns amongst the men, they range in age from teenagers to septuagenarians, and seemingly from all walks of life. Men from 71 countries in total tried to make the computer generated child commit a sex act online for them. Around the world today, national papers are picking on the numbers from their own country. The Sydney Morning Herald reports 46 Australians identified, and the Globe and Mail in Canada, 54 Canadians.
The charity has now finished their operation and “Sweetie” will no longer be used as a bait to tempt the unsuspecting into her fake chat room. Using a real child in such a way would of course have been reprehensible. Despite the fact that she was fabricated, some commentators have added their voices to those who are against the vigilante style operation, of taking the law into their own hands. There is a counter argument that by creating the profile, and thereby stoking a fantasy, the Terre des Hommes technicians may have done more harm than good. There is a danger in society of ordinary people turning into witch-hunters and even lynch mobs if they feel they have the moral high ground. This was the case this July in the UK when Bijan Ebrahimi, an innocent man, was killed and burnt in his own community, wrongly accused of being a pedophile.
The computer generation of a fake Filipina girl child has certainly caught a terrifying number of sex perverts in its 10-week sting operation. Sadly, the name “Sweetie” was chosen as this is what many real life Filipino children call themselves online in chat rooms.
By Kate Henderson