Computer Animation Snares 1000 Sex Predators

The Netherlands has a history of proactive cybercrime prevention. In 2010 Dutch police took over the Bredolab C&C servers and used them to distribute warning notices to infected PCs calling home. More recently a new law has been proposed to allow law enforcement to hack into local and foreign phones and computers in order to pursue cybercriminals.

Now TDH has launched a campaign in conjunction with Avaaz (it had just under 50,000 signatures at the time of writing) to get law enforcement to take a more proactive role in finding and prosecuting online sexual predators of children. "We call on government agencies in charge of justice to immediately adopt proactive law enforcement policies that empower law enforcement agencies to patrol public online spaces known to be hotspots for WCST [webcam child sex tourism] and to prosecute predators committing these crimes without waiting for children or parents to report them," says the report it published Monday.

Although international laws against WCST exist, they are rarely used. Only six predators have ever been convicted for WCST even though the UN and the FBI estimate that 750,000 pedophiles are connected to the internet at any time. TDH believes that the number of 'predators' could be even higher. There are many reasons for this lack of legal action: predator and victim are often located in different legal jurisdictions; victims are frequently in developing companies where poverty is rife; and it is difficult to get victims to testify against what could well be family.

Now TDH is calling for new proactive international action, possibly based on its own 'Sweetie' campaign. Sweetie is a computer-generated 10-year old Filipino girl. Operated by TDH researchers in Amsterdam she entered chat rooms frequented by predators, and over a period of just three months was approached by 20,000 predators.

While the predators chatted with the researchers, frequently asking Sweetie to turn on her webcam and undress for money, the researchers were able to use social media information to identify around 1000 of them. "Sweetie looks and moves like a 10-year-old Filipino girl sitting behind a webcam," says the report. "Because some predators were reluctant to show their faces on webcam without first seeing visual confirmation that they were chatting with a 10-year-old Filipino girl, Sweetie proved to be extremely successful in gaining trust."

Of those 1000 men willing to pay Sweetie, 254 come from the US, 110 from the UK, and 103 from India. "The largest contingents of named suspects on the dossier came from the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, Germany, Turkey, Italy and the Netherlands," reports Reuters. "In all, the charity identified suspects in 71 countries." Only one woman was identified among the predators. "The video footage of the child predators has been handed over to the police authorities today," announced TDH Monday.

“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," said Hans Guyt, director of campaigns at TDH Netherlands. "The child predators doing this now feel that the law doesn’t apply to them.”

For this to happen will probably require new legislation in many countries. It is difficult to see how people could be prosecuted for importuning a child who doesn't exist. Andy Baker from the UK's National Crime Agency told the BBC that "tackling child sex abusers is best left to specialist law enforcement agencies." Nevertheless, he added, "Working with our international law enforcement partners, we will now look at the information being passed on by Terre des Hommes."

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