1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Online sex tourism

Interview: Emma Wallis, Neil KingNovember 7, 2013

Over 1,000 men from 71 countries paid to see a 10-year-old girl perform sexual acts on the Internet. Except the "girl" was really an avatar created by Terre des Hommes. The NGO wants police to change their tactics.

Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Sweetie (pictured above) is a 10-year-old Philippine, computer-generated avatar created by the Dutch branch of the Terre des Hommes. The online creation was part of a project the NGO launched to uncover the extent of a new phenomenon: live online child prostitution and abuse. Terre des Hommes identified more than 1,000 men from 71 countries in the space of just 10 weeks who were willing to pay to watch Sweetie perform sex acts even though they knew that she was just 10 years old.

The organization has now handed over its findings to Interpol. Hans Guyt, the Head of Campaigns and Special Projects at Terre des Hommes in The Hague, told DW about the undertaking and how to protect children from what the groups calls online sex tourism.

DW: Where did the idea for this project come from?

Hans Guyt: A year and a half ago when we visited the Philippines to evaluate our projects against child prostitution there, we noticed that a lot of child prostitutes had just disappeared from view. They were now working from Internet cafes and that's how we first got interested in this particular subject and we also found out that more children were actually exposed to this new phenomenon. Children who had never been exposed to prostitution before but were now forced by their parents to sit in front of webcams and perform sex shows.

What happens in these Internet cafes. How do the children perform sex shows in such public places?

These are very widespread in the Philippines and some of them are not supervised. There are just slot machines where you put in some money and then you have access to the Internet. Most of the time these Internet cafes are just next to let's say the office of a Western Union branch and so one of the kids goes in to withdraw the transferred money and then they go back into the Internet cafe while some of the other kids hold up a towel for cover and the show starts. It's all very amateurish and makeshift.

Hans Guyt of Terre des Hommes, Photo: AP Photo/Peter Dejong
Guyt said police need to get involved before a crime takes place and victimizes a childImage: picture alliance / AP Images

How widespread is this phenomenon?

The moment you introduce yourself as a 10-year-old girl from the Philippines, it's just incredible what happens. You're approached by up to 15 men at a time and within minutes it's clear what they want from a 10-year-old child and that they're willing to pay for it. The speed was just overwhelming. According to the FBI, there are more than 40,000 public chat rooms where you can encounter pedophiles with a 100 percent certainty. We only managed to scan about 50 public chat rooms because we only had four researchers. But we still managed to identify 1,000 predators in just 10 weeks. That was shocking.

From the data you gathered, what can you tell us about the men involved? Is there any pattern?

Another shocking fact is that most of them were actually family men with wives and children. They were men with steady jobs, musicians, architects, civil servants. This phenomenon is going to take on epidemic proportions if we don't act now. We're already talking about tens of thousands of children who suffer this kind of abuse in the Philippines alone compared to only a couple of hundred over a year and half ago, so it's definitely on the increase. If we don't intervene now the same thing is going to happen with this phenomenon as has happened with child pornography, which is now a multi-billion dollar industry.

Isn't it a bit unusual for your kind of organization to launch an entrapment project like this?

This was never entrapment. We made sure that everybody in the Internet was aware of the fact that they were dealing with a 10-year-old child from the Philippines. We repeated that again and again and asked them whether they were really sure they wanted to do this and pay money for a sex show. We never solicited. We never forced these people into anything. There was certainly never a case of entrapment. But yes, it is unusual for an organization like ours to launch such a project. And we will continue to work with children who are the victims of this particular form of abuse and exploitation, but if you don't address the roots of the problem, this incredible demand worldwide for this sort of activities, you will never get anywhere. We were forced into that situation to carry out this research project. Now it's up to law enforcement and politicians of the world to take it on and address this issue because it needs to be addressed with a sense of urgency.

How can this problem be addressed?

Over the last seven years only six individuals worldwide have been convicted. Does that mean that law enforcement is incompetent? No. Does it mean that the laws are insufficient? No. It means that the usual methodology does not work. The usual methodology requires a victim. But in this case the victims are children from let's say the Philippines who are trying to make a living as a prostitute themselves so they won't come forward. Or they're being forced into this business by their parents or other family members and they won't testify against their own family. So we don't have any victims. Secondly, on the Internet there are no witnesses who could testify. Thirdly, this is live-stream video which means that when you turn off the computer the evidence is gone. So there's no way that you can take these people to court successfully. We need a different method - a method that you can apply before a crime takes place and that means monitoring and policing the Internet. Once you have identified these individuals you can take the next step. Then it's up to the police to warn these people off and caution them before crimes take place. That's exactly the message that we're trying to get across because that will serve as a deterrent. Then people will think twice before going on the Internet to try and abuse or have children abused in front of their cameras.