How a children rights group created a digital 10-year-old girl named Sweetie to catch pedophiles — and how it sent a man to jail.
Many people have read about the child activist group Terre des Hommes and their ingenious idea for fighting the war on child pornography. Now, the operation can claim its first reported conviction: Scott Robert Hansen, who is a registered sex offender, recently pleaded guilty to three charges in the Brisbane District Court because of his interactions with “Sweetie.”
In November 2013, the Dutch volunteer organization Terre des Hommes announced that they had managed to track down over 1,000 pedophiles around the world by employing a digital 10-year-old girl named Sweetie. Focusing largely on the Philippines, the group created the Filipina digital character as a way to interact with cyber criminals that exploit underage children in impoverished countries, ultimately utilizing her as a way to find pedophiles.
Operating out of a warehouse in Amsterdam, the Terre des Hommes researchers were messaged by pedophiles from over 71 countries. The researchers communicated under the alias of Sweetie, the computer generated 10-year-old girl, via a software application, and were asked by the men who messaged them to perform sexual acts in front of a web camera.
After beginning communications with each of these men, the researchers would capture the chat and video logs, then track them down through social networks. Terre des Hommes submitted the information that they gathered to agencies that monitor child sex crimes in the appropriate regions.
The grimy details
Hansen – who was on Terre des Hommes’ list of 1,000 online predators given to Interpol, the world’s largest international police organization – was sentenced to two years in prison after confessing to sending obscene pictures of himself to Sweetie, having images of child sexual abuse on his computer, and failing to comply with a sex offenders order.
Though Hanson is only one of thousands of men that Terre des Hommes collected and submitted information on, the conviction is a big win for the organization and opens the doorway for more online pedophiles to be tracked down and prosecuted.
“The fact that the girl was not real was irrelevant,” said Judge Ryrie during Hanson’s sentencing. “If you believe that’s a nine-year-old girl, then that’s the law, that’s good enough.”
According to the chat logs that were released to the BBC by Terre des Hommes, Hansen’s interactions with the virtual girl were quite explicit. At one point he said, “I’m naked, ever seen a guy naked?” and performed sexual acts on his web cam, in front of what he thought was a nine-year-old girl.
Terre de Hommes has estimated that the amount of children in the Philippines alone, of various ages ranging from 6 and up, that are being sexually abused and exploited behind web cameras every day is in the tens of thousands.
“They have no idea about normal relationships, they have no idea about sexuality,” said Hans Guyt, Terre des Hommes’ Head of Programs, about the exploited children with whom they work.
“And what makes it worse is that it is on the increase,” said Guyt. “If nothing is being done about the source of the problem this phenomenon will only increase even further.”
The organization estimates that at any given moment, there are 750,000 pedophiles online.
To see more about Sweetie, check out the video below.