A global sting operation involving a virtual ten-year-old girl named Sweetie has led to the conviction of a registered sex offender in Australia, marking what is believed to be the first conviction since the avatar was created last year by a Dutch rights group. Scott Robert Hansen, 37, pleaded guilty to three counts in a Brisbane court this week, admitting to possessing images of child sexual abuse and sending lewd pictures of himself to Sweetie.
Workers from the charity Terre des Hommes went undercover in chatrooms for ten weeks last year, posing as Philippine girls and using Sweetie to lure potential predators via webcam. The group says it never actively approached predators, waiting instead for them to contact Sweetie, and that its researchers stopped all conversations once a user offered the young girl money to perform sexual acts. The goal, they say, was to shed light on a growing form of webcam-based child exploitation, which has snared thousands of victims in the Philippines alone.
More than 20,000 users from 71 countries approached Sweetie with requests for obscene performances during the ten-week operation, of which 1,000 were identified. Terre des Hommes passed their names on to authorities in the UK, US, and other countries, though Interpol has raised concerns over non-governmental organizations spearheading criminal investigations.
The operation led to the arrest of 46 people in Australia, and other investigations are ongoing. BBC News has obtained a transcript of Hansen's conversation with Sweetie, whom he took to be nine-years-old. The chat logs show that the man asked Sweetie if she'd ever seen a naked man before, before turning the camera on himself and performing a sexual act.
An anonymous operator tells BBC News that Hansen was "probably not the most serious, not even amongst the most serious" of predators he encountered during the sting. "Some of the men we interacted with literally give me nightmares," the operator added.
This week's conviction comes just days after Lemz, the Amsterdam-based agency that created Sweetie, won the top prize at this year's Dutch Design Awards. Hansen was sentenced to two years in prison, though he isn't expected to fill the full term since he's already been detained for eight months.