Her name is Sweetie and she’s only ten years old. Sweetie is from the Philippines, and like tens of thousands of other children around her country who are forced into performing sex acts via webcam, she is constantly approached by cybersex predators.
“As soon as I go online, they come to me,” she said in a video. “Ten, hundred, every hour. So many.”
Although her story is disturbingly common in impoverished Southeast Asian countries, Sweetie is far from typical. She’s actually a sophisticated computer model, “living” on a hard drive in Amsterdam, designed to track down and expose the men and women who seek to exploit children online.
Sweetie was created by Terre des Hommes, a Dutch children’s rights organization that hopes to rid the internet of what it calls “webcam child sex tourism” (WCST).
“WCST is known to take place on a large scale in the Philippines, but there is no compelling reason to believe that WCST does not also occur in other countries, particularly in South East Asia, where Internet access rates are climbing and there is a well-developed criminal infrastructure around child sexual exploitation and human trafficking,” Terre des Hommes said in a press release.
During a 10-week period between April and June, Terre des Hommes reported that a shocking 20,000 people “made approaches to the virtual girl,” despite her young age.
The organization was able to identify 1,000 predators, hailing from 71 different countries, who offered to pay Sweetie to perform sex acts over a video chat. Their personal information was then compiled into a “dossier” and shared with Interpol.
“Terre des Homme researchers hunkered in an Amsterdam warehouse, turned on a Webcam, and using software, controlled the CG girl's conversation, facial expressions, and movements,” said CNET. “While the fake girl chatted with the real men, the activists tracked the potential criminals down not by hacking their computers, but by using information they volunteered – Facebook and other social-media profiles, Skype handles, phone numbers, pictures, and video footage.”
A report earlier this year revealed that 80 percent of human trafficking victims in the Philippines are girls under the age of 18. There are an estimated 60,000 to 100,000 children working in the Philippine sex industry – many of them lured into performing sex acts via webcam after being promised a “normal” job.
“If we were able to identify 1,000 individuals in just two and a half months last summer, think how many of these people could be identified if governments took a more active approach,” Albert Jaap Van Santbrink, Terre de Homme’s director, told ABC. “The perpetrators think they are invisible, but we proved that they are anything but.”
Although more than 20,000 people attempted to solicit Sweetie, her creators pointed out that only six WCST predators have ever been convicted of a crime.