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Friday, March 1, 2024

Meet “Sweetie” — The Online Predator’s Worst Nightmare

Meet Sweetie. She appears to be a ten-year-old girl from the Philippines. But she’s not. She doesn’t even exist.

“Sweetie” is a computer-generated animated image used as bait to trap online pedophiles worldwide.

Here is her story:

The organization behind the project is Terre Des Hommes Netherlands, a children’s aid organization. They are also running a petition at AVAAZ.org asking police and child protection authorities to “crack down on the webcam predators”.

Terre Des Hommes’ Facebook Page shared the first major triumph of their online sting: 103 men arrested in India, where current laws allow for prosecution of “misuse of children” online. If convicted, they could face up to five years in prison.

From the Business Standard:

As per the sting operation, more than 20,000 people contacted her, of which 1,000 men tried to pay her money for sex acts online. Out of these 1,000, 103 have been identified from India. These 103 were willing to pay money to Sweetie to take off her clothes in front of a web-camera.

Other countries may follow. Terre Des Hommes has given more than a thousand names to Interpol, including 54 in my own country of Canada.

The idea of even a virtual child conversing with men about sex is unsettling. But apparently Sweetie is able to nab predators before “she” has to perform anything explicit.

The CBC describes one sting chat:

During a demonstration for AP early Monday, one of the researchers logged into a public chat room as Sweetie — identifying himself by her purported age, gender and country of origin. Seconds later, multiple pop-up dialogue boxes began appearing on his screen from people using pseudonyms and soliciting a girl who had clearly identified herself as 10 years old.

One chat between the researcher identifying himself as Sweetie and one of the online users went like this:

Sweetie: “What you want see?”

User: “U.”

Sweetie: “What u pay for?”

User: “Naked.”

As the conversation progressed, they agreed a $20 fee to be paid by a wire transfer and Sweetie asked for the person’s Skype address but took the chat no further.

This isn’t much different from what police are already doing online, but the addition of a convincing image is likely much more effective.

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