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Filipina women ‘triggered’ by avatar used as bait to catch pedophiles

Computer-generated image of Filipina girl dubbed "Sweetie" to lure pedophiles online. All photos from Terre des Hommes.

An online anti-trafficking campaign put together by a Dutch human rights group attracted more than 21,000 men to chat with a virtual 10-year old Filipina girl they named “Sweetie.” A thousand identities of pedophiles were sent to Interpol following the sting operation.

The group, Terre des Hommes, found information on the suspects through Facebook, Skype, and other social media. Among the 1000, 54 men were ensnared from Canada within the ten-day operation.

Some Filipina women said they were worried that the computer-generated image of a girl from the Philippines would attract more predators. 

“I appreciate the good intention but specifically using a FILIPINA CHILD is kinda baffling. This ploy may have ensnared a thousand but this will also unleash thousands more to prey on our young kids,” Amy Teo-Tuldanes, a mother of two living in the Philippines, commented in a Facebook thread of the video.

Many Filipinas said the ends justify the means. “In a considerably short span of time, it was able to lure out hundreds of monsters that were the pedophiles,” said Dr. Marcelina G. Carpizo, former chairperson of Philippines Against Child Trafficking. “The Dutch group, however inconvenient it may be, must be given the benefit of the doubt that it was a sincere, responsible and justifiable decision,” she said.

Terre des Hommes said it has been working with the Philippines for 10 years tackling what it calls Webcam Child Sex Tourism (WCST). This campaign is “the best documented in terms of the appearance in the recent years to WCST.  We have a large operational setting there working on the psychosocial effects of children and in the prevention in poor communities,” wrote Ignacio Packer, a spokesperson for the group, in an e-mail. 

The group highlights some staggering numbers about online pedators. “The UN and FBI estimate that 750,000 pedophiles are online at any given moment. We estimate that tens of thousands of kids, some of them only six years old, are abused behind cams in the Philippines alone,” it states in the video about the operation, which has already garnered 1.7 million viewers  since its release on Monday.

Second-generation Filipinas in Vancouver were also emotionally moved by the video.

“It was very triggering,” said Eirene Cloma, a co-host and technician of a Filipino community radio show in Vancouver, called Tinig ng Masa (Voice of the People).

The operation also raises bigger issues. “It’s an important conversation to have because sexual exploitation of children links to the bigger issues that affect our community. For example, family separation... overseas workers who are separated from their families, or having to just work all the time, are never be there to protect our children,” she said.

Conversation between a researcher posing as Sweetie and online predator. 

Another Vancouverite, Racquel Vigilante, who works with an international youth charity, was disappointed that the campaign was successful because of the character’s ethnicity. “I wish she weren't effective bait, but unfortunately we live in a world where she is. I'm disgusted,” she said.

Other women of Filipino descent want the group to go beyond the video, having raised the issue using the Philippines.

“For the real Filipina girls that are virtually prostituted... who are their pimps? I think the story forgets to talk about that too. So we are criminalizing the men who are buying these girls. But the whole thing that is missing from this campaign or crusade is criminalizing the pimps,” said Jollene Levid, the national chairperson of an American organization for women of colour, called AF3IRM.

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