More than 1,000 men were caught trying to pay a computer-generated child to perform sex acts online after a fake profile was set up by a Dutch children’s charity.
According to the BBC, Terre des Hommes launched a 10-week sting operation near Amsterdam, posing on video chat rooms as a 10-year-old Filipina named “Sweetie.”
She was contacted by roughly 20,000 men, 1,000 of whom offered her money to perform sex acts on camera.
The names of these men were then passed to police.
The BBC’s Angus Crawford describes how he went to the charity’s operations room — a mysterious warehouse in a mostly vacant area of Amsterdam — and watched a researcher log in to a chatroom as Sweetie, an incredibly life-like face created by a computer.
Within seconds, Crawford, says, the profile was swarmed by creeps.
Out of the 1,000 men who offered Sweetie money to take off her clothes in front of a webcam, 254 were from the U.S, 110 from the U.K. and 103 from India.
The men were identified by online profiles on Skype and social media.
“We did not solicit anything unless it was offered to us,” Project director Hans Guyt told a news conference in Hague on Monday.
Terre des Hommes has launched a global campaign to stop “webcam sex tourism.”
Managing director, Albert Jaap van Santbrink, said: “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.”
Though the charity has handed over all of its findings to police and has promised to provide authorities with the technology it has developed, Europol has expressed concern about following through with arrests.
“We believe that criminal investigations using intrusive surveillance measures should be the exclusive responsibility of law enforcement agencies,” spokesman Soren Pedersen told Reuters.
Andy Baker, of the UK’s National Crime Agency, also said that “tackling child sex abusers is best left to specialist law enforcement agencies”.
But he also praised the campaign, saying it had “widened awareness of a global child sex abuse threat.”
“Working with our international law enforcement partners, we will now look at the information being passed on by Terre des Hommes,” he added.
Sweetie will never be used again, Crawford writes, because she has already done her job. It’s now up to the police to figure out what to do with the evidence that could land roughly 1,000 men in jail.