The Virtual ‘Lolita’ Hunting Online Predators

“That’s the beauty of the Web: You can roll around in a stranger’s obsession without having to smell his or her house.” —Penn Jillette

In A Nutshell

It’s no secret that parts of the Internet are crawling with child molesters. For every few hundred regular people online, there’s some creep trying to get off on faraway kids. But now a Dutch charity is turning vigilante. By using a virtual 10-year-old “Lolita” to lure predators in, they’ve managed to identify over 1,000 pedophiles.

The Whole Bushel

Has Guyt is a man with an unusual job. As director of the Dutch charity Terre des Hommes, he oversees a team responsible for baiting online predators with a 10-year-old Filipino girl. On her webcam, “Sweetie” logs into chat rooms and waits for older men to proposition her—at which point Guyt and his team swoop, collecting video and e-mail evidence on the creeps. It sounds deeply immoral, until you realize that “Sweetie” doesn’t exist. She’s virtual—a computer construct designed specially by the charity to catch pedophiles.

For 10 weeks this summer, Guyt and his team clandestinely accessed hundreds of chat rooms as Sweetie and waited for the offers to roll in. Each time they were inundated. Men as far away as India, the US and England instantly bombarded them with messages, offering money for a nude webcam show. According to the team, this is a burgeoning online industry. Across developing countries, adults are realizing kids can earn them money with a simple webcam setup—provided they leave their morals at the door. During the summer, tens of thousands of men solicited Sweetie, with Guyt’s team successfully identifying 1,000 of them.

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Currently, Sweetie operates in a legal grey area. Most children’s charities have rejected the idea, insisting this sort of thing should be left to the police. Then there’s the matter of entrapment. Although the team always wait until someone contacts Sweetie, this sort of bait and switch isn’t always admissible in court. Finally, there are the usual vigilante worries about citizens taking the law into their own hands. For all this though, Sweetie has had her uses. As the BBC noted, she has at the very least shown predators “that they can easily become (the) prey.”

Show Me The Proof

BBC: Computer-generated ‘Sweetie’ catches online predators
The Independent: Activists use CGI 10-year-old Filipino girl ‘Sweetie’ to snare thousands of paedophiles