The WATCH Netherlands project was set up to stop sexual exploitation of minors in this country. Its Observation & Action Unit is located at HSD and operated by Terre des Hommes, where students of forensic IT develop forensic techniques for pro-active intervention and research into online juvenile prostitution as well as following-up on information from the WATCH "hotline", which was established to allow individuals to report cases of possible victims of such abuse.
The Watch project is a joint initiative by Terre des Hommes, the Centre against Child Trafficking and FIER (shelter and counselling organisation for victims of domestic and sexual violence), in cooperation with HSD partners Tracksinspector and the University of Applied Sciences Leiden.
The Watch and Sweetie projects are a great example of how Centres of Expertise can work together with NGOs, businesses and governmental organisations towards a safer world.
At the HSD Campus, Hans Guijt, Head of Special Programmes & Campaigns at Terre des Hommes stated;
“The development of these technologies at HSD is a significant part of our international campaign to protect children both abroad and here in The Netherlands from becoming victims of sexual predators on the internet. We need to keep apace of the phenomenal growth in this highly abusive practice and make people aware that the Internet may be free but it is not lawless.”
It started with Sweetie
In 2013, over a period of two months, researchers for Terre des Hommes unmasked over 1,000 offenders seeking webcam sex with children, using a virtual 10- year- old Filipino “girl” named Sweetie. The ensuing report, which drew a graphic image of the extent and nature of webcam child sex tourism sent shock waves worldwide and served as a wake-up call. The United Nations immediately gave the issue a priority placing on the agenda and many countries have since acted to try to curtail this form of child abuse. In the Philippines, internet dens were discovered where children were being forced to comply with sexual demands of strangers online. The children were rescued and the perpetrators are facing prosecution. In other countries (Australia, Poland, Belgium, United Kingdom, Denmark and The Netherlands) arrests have been made and convictions secured by the courts based on research handed over to law enforcement agencies by Terre des Hommes. However, further research also indicates that many perpetrators consider themselves to be undetectable online and millions of children remain easy prey for sexual abuse on the internet.
To prevent the continuing phenomenal growth of webcam child sex tourism (also known as online child sexual abuse) Terre des Hommes have assembled a team of national and international specialists in the fields of internet law, forensic psychology, cybercrime intelligence and software development to prototype an innovative computer- based early warning system. The team is composed of Forensic Psychology and Legal experts from the Universities of Tilburg and Leiden. The software is aimed at detecting, identifying and deterring millions of potential offenders. The system will be aligned with national and international frameworks for investigation and prosecution. Running concurrently with the implementation of the early warning system will be an extensive academic research programme into the impact of this preventive approach on webcam child sex tourism worldwide. The technical element of this far-reaching, highly specialised project is being conducted by Tracks Inspector at The Hague Security Delta and is expected to reach completion in 2017.