Every day, hundreds of thousands of men around the world surf the internet. They seek boys and girls to engage in webcam sex. Often these men also travel as sex tourists to countries, such as the Philippines. Using project Sweetie, we fight widespread child sexual exploitation, online and offline.
For many years cyber related and undercover research have been central to Terre des Hommes' Sweetie and Watch programmes. After thorough analysis the conclusion has been drawn that this type of activity is not fitting the mission of Terre des Hommes, and has been conflicting with its ethical standards and codes of conduct. Our focus within these programs was on detecting abusers and therefore too little on protecting the (eventual) victims.
Therefore the decision is made to stop the activities related to cyber and undercover research.
Terre des Hommes will continue it's fight for the protection of children, for the issues around online sexual exploitation of children and the issue around traveling sexoffenders but this will be done in other ways. Terre des Hommes will continue to protect vulnerable children. Furthermore Terre des Hommes will raise awareness as well as build knowledge and capacities of the formal institutions responsible for child protection, tracking of perpetrators and law enforcement.
Sweetie was a ten-year-old virtual Filipino girl. Her highly life-like image appeared online in chat rooms and on dating sites. When men started talking with her in a sexually suggestive way, she engaged back. All the information from their exchanges got stored and used to warn, track down or even arrest and convict perpetrators.
Sweetie was developed in 2013 as part of research into webcam child sex. Within a short time, Sweetie was in touch with 1,000 men. This outcome was so shocking that it caused global outcry. Terre des Hommes had pulled back the curtain on online child sexual exploitation for good. Ever since, we have been using Sweetie to stop this terrible form of child exploitation.
We urgently need Sweetie and other virtual profiles to fight webcam child sex. According to the FBI, at any given moment of the day, around 750,000 men are seeking online sex with children. In the Philippines alone, local police estimate that tens of thousands of children are such victims. This terrible trend also occurs in other countries in Southeast Asia. It is only growing along with the growth of the internet.
Working with international specialists, Terre des Hommes has developed a software system that can be used worldwide to fight webcam child sex. Using a chatbot, the software can be deployed 24/7 to identify potential perpetrators in multiple chat rooms simultaneously, deter them or, if necessary, have them arrested and prosecuted by transferring our suspect case files to the police.
In 2019, we began expanding our work thanks again to the Dutch Postcode Lottery. Our project known as #Sweetie 24/7 was awarded over 2.9 million euros. This money is being applied in a systematic way to tackle widespread child sexual exploitation online and offline. We started in the Philippines, where this problem is most severe, and want to extend the project to countries such as Cambodia, Nepal and Kenya.
With further developed software, Sweetie 3.0 now lets us track suspects across all kinds of social media and online platforms. All information gets stored and analysed. Our undercover employees use it to make contact with intermediaries who provide the children for sexual abuse. This lets us locate where the children are being exploited.
Once we have all the necessary information, we hand over our files to relevant government officials and police. This lets children be rescued. It lets suspects get arrested. The victims go to a safe shelter, where they can recover and receive medical care and trauma treatment. Ultimately, we want to see our entire Sweetie strategy to be transferred into the hands of our project countries’ local governments.
Deployment of Sweetie has brought tremendous success in these past years: