Sting investigation gathers names of 1,000 perpetrators in 71 countries.
Three Irish men have been identified using webcams to pay for virtual sex with children, as part of an international “sting” investigation which was able to secure the names, addresses and online details of more than 1,000 perpetrators in 71 countries over just 10 weeks.
Terre des Hommes, the child protection charity behind the undercover operation, said the men they had identified were just the tip of a global iceberg – with more than 750,000 potential predators actively searching online for children every single minute, according to figures from the UN and the FBI.
The charity’s director, Albert Jaap van Santbrink, said “tens of thousands” of child victims of “webcam child sex tourism” had been identified in the Philippines and other developing countries, traumatised by being forced to perform sex acts on camera for hours at a time every day.
“The perpetrators think they are invisible, but we have been able to prove they are anything but invisible – and will be passing their details on to Interpol, who will contact their own national police forces”, said Mr van Santbrink.
“If we were able to identify 1,000 individuals in just over two months, think how many of these people could be identified if governments took a more active approach to this new and worsening problem. That’s what we’re saying should happen now. This amounts to long-range rape.”
The investigation, which was run from a warehouse on the outskirts of Amsterdam, was unique in that is used a virtual 10-year-old Filipino girl named “Sweetie”, created using the most up-to-date animation and movie technology, to prove that the men were willing to pay for sex with children.
Once the “10-year-old” had identified herself in various public online chat rooms, a team of four researchers began tracing the “swarm” of more than 20,000 men who made contact initially, to gather as much online data as possible about their identifies. That number was than narrowed down.
“We were not interested in individual countries”, said Terre des Hommes Director of Campaigns, Hans Guyt. “We were more interested in illustrating the spread of countries in which these perpetrators were located – and we found a total of 71 nationalities in all.”
Of the 1,000 men the investigation finally identified, three were Irish and living inIreland. Two of them have children of their own, a spokesman for Terre des HommesNetherlands told The Irish Times.
Although the three have not been publicly identified in any way, a plethora of information has been gathered about each of them, including the IP addresses of their computers, their usernames, skype addresses, email addresses, Facebook pages, their real names, and in some case home addresses, though the information varies from individual to individual.
“The individuals have also been recorded from the webcam, so we can actually see who they are”, the spokesman said.
He said none of the men had been contacted by Terre des Hommes, nor would they be, and did not yet know that they had been identified.
All the information gathered by the investigation has been sent to Interpol and it would be left to their discretion as to how to proceed. They are expected, however, to contact the police forces in the individuals’ own countries, including the gardaí in Ireland.
The investigation, said Mr van Santbrink, gave concrete proof for the first time that webcam child sex abuse was “spreading like an epidemic” – as a result of endemic poverty, and especially child poverty, in developing countries, and also as a result of greater access to the internet.
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