A growing problem
Rising internet usage rates and poverty in the developing countries have given rise to a new form of online child sexual exploitation, Webcam Child Sex Tourism. And it’s a growing problem.
According to a United Nations report, around 750,000 sexual predators are constantly prowling the Internet in a bid to gain contact with children and the number of sites devoted to child pornography worldwide is growing. UNICEF estimates that there are more than four million websites featuring victims who are minors, including children under two years old
To mobilize the world to stop Webcam Child Sex Tourism (WCST), child’s rights organisation Terre des Hommes carried out an online sting operation to find out how many sexual predators engage in WCST and demonstrate how social data and the power of networks can be used to stop them.
The campaign, titled Becoming Sweetie, swept the Cannes Lions this year, winning 13 golden lions and the Grand Prix for Good.
Who is Sweetie?
Sweetie looks like your average 10 year old Filipino girl, but is actually a computer-generated character, whose facial expressions are controlled by Terre des Hommes researchers. They spent eight to ten hours a day, five days a week, for 20 weeks on chat rooms disguised as Sweetie.
During this period, 20,172 predators from 71 countries offered to pay to see Sweetie perform sexual acts.
Watch the video: Stop webcam child sex tourism
Social hacking to identify the predators
The disguise of Sweetie proved to be extremely helpful in gaining the trust of the predators who were reluctant to show their faces on webcam. Using social hacking, the names and locations of 1,000 of these predators were identified.
The predators’ identities were shared with the international crime organization Interpol, and Terre des Hommes released a video to show people the seriousness of the Webcam Child Sex Tourism problem.
Adopting the solution at a larger scale
Terre des Hommes collaborated with many organizations to create awareness about their methodology. A short documentary was made with the help of Dutch filmmaker Peter Tetteroo and uploaded to a designated YouTube channel. Terre des Homes also published a 120-page research report about the findings on this platform.
Journalists and bloggers from 71 countries were invited to attend or view a live-stream of the press conference where Terre des Hommes explained the project and handed over the evidence to Interpol.
One of the biggest takeaways – and indeed one of the reasons the campaign was so successful at Cannes – was the creative use of technology to contribute to a real solution.
The widespread coverage of the campaign ensured that over one billion people saw Sweetie in the news and were inspired to act further. People created and signed online petitions on sites like Avaaz.org, urging local governments to adopt proactive investigation policies to protect children against sexual predators online.
This post is part of the People’s Insights monthly brief for June + July.