'Sweetie' sting nabs 1,000 alleged online child abusers

The Hague: An international children's rights group said on Monday it had passed details of 1,000 alleged Internet sex offenders to Interpol after trawling video chatrooms with the aid of a computer-generated 10-year-old Filipina 'girl' named Sweetie.

Terre des Hommes urged authorities to tackle the growing problem of minors being coaxed into performing sexual acts in front of a webcam, and said it would provide them with the technology it had developed.

"The predator won't come forward. The victim won't come forward," Terre des Hommes activist Hans Guyt told a news conference in The Hague. "This requires a new way of policing."

The group's researchers were inundated with potential predators when they went online with a lifelike, digitally-animated persona named Sweetie.

Her video chat partners thought they were talking to a Filipina minor, but in fact they were communicating with a team in a warehouse in the Dutch capital Amsterdam, who were recording everything and looking for clues to their identity.

"In 10 weeks, we traced 1,000 men from all over the world who were willing to pay Sweetie to perform sexual acts in front of the webcam," said Albert Jaap van Santbrink, director of Terre des Hommes Netherlands.

"Our worst-case scenario is that the same will happen with this phenomenon as with child pornography, which is now a multi-billion industry in the hands of criminal gangs."

The largest contingents of named suspects on the dossier came from the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, Germany, Turkey, Italy and the Netherlands. In all, the charity identified suspects in 71 countries.

"We identified ourselves as 10-year-old Filipino girls. We did not solicit anything unless it was offered to us," said Guyt. He said the researchers had used circumstantial evidence, including handles on the online telephony service Skype and profiles on social networks, to identify suspects.

However, the European Union policing agency Europol expressed reservations about Terre des Hommes' approach.

"We believe that criminal investigations using intrusive surveillance measures should be the exclusive responsibility of law enforcement agencies," said Europol spokesman Soren Pedersen.



Kiwis caught in 'Sweetie' child sex sting


This hand out picture released by Terre des Hommes Netherlands, a Dutch rights group, shows a computer-generated 10-year-old Filippino girl called Sweetie. Photo / AFP

This hand out picture released by Terre des Hommes Netherlands, a Dutch rights group, shows a computer-generated 10-year-old Filippino girl called Sweetie. Photo / AFP

New Zealand police say they have yet to receive information regarding four New Zealanders reportedly caught in an international sting offering to pay a 10-year-old girl for an online sex show.

Dutch children's rights organisation Terre des Hommes has identified 1000 adults who were willing to pay children in developing countries to perform sexual acts in front of a webcam.

With the help of a computer-generated 10-year-old Filipino girl named Sweetie, the researchers identified adults from more than 65 countries, the group's website said.

The video footage of the child predators was handed over to Interpol yesterday.

Included on the predator list were the names of four New Zealanders, One News reported.

Online Child Exploitation Across New Zealand (OCEANZ) Detective Senior Sergeant John Michael said NZ Police had not yet received any details about the alleged offending.

"We will be contacting European Union police agencies to discuss this matter further."

New Zealand Police proactively investigated sex offenders who seek to used the internet as a means of targeting children, Mr Michael said.

"OCEANZ and partner agencies have been very successful in holding such offenders to account."

The operation involved researchers operating public chat rooms from a remote building in Amsterdam.

The operation involved researchers operating public chat rooms from a remote building in Amsterdam.

"In a very short period, over 20,000 predators from around the world approached the virtual 10-year-old, asking for webcam sex performances," the group said.

While the adults interacted with the virtual girl, the researchers gathered information about the viewers through social media to uncover their identities.

The group has used the evidence to push governments to adopt proactive investigation policies, with a worldwide petition, starting today.

In one exchange with Sweetie, a man with the online name "Older4young", who has been identified as a 35-year-old father of two from Atlanta in the United States, first asks Sweetie her age, and when she says 10-years-old he responds: "mmmmmm ... I like that. my daughter is your age. are you a virgin?"

He then asks Sweetie to get naked for $10.

Hans Guyt, director of campaigns at Terre des Hommes Netherlands told Associated Press the results of the 10-week investigation were "shocking".

"We were swamped by men looking for contact, looking for sexual activities with us."

If authorities did not intervene soon "this sinister phenomenon will totally run out of control", he said.

Despite the fact webcam child sex tourism was banned by most national and international laws, only six perpetrators worldwide had been convicted of the crime, Mr Guyt said.

"It is not a problem of existing laws. 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. Sometimes they have to testify against their own family, which is almost an impossible thing to do for a child."

The top country of origin for the adults identified in the sting was the US with 254, followed by Britain with 110 and India with 103.



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