Frequently Asked Questions
What is Terre des Hommes?
Terre des Hommes is a children's charity which was founded in 1965 by a group of enthusiastic volunteers.
Terre des Hommes prevent children from being exploited, remove children from exploitative situations and ensure that these children can develop in a safe environment. Terre des Hommes always works together with local project partners and operates in 24 countries.
What exactly is Webcam Child Sex Tourism?
Webcam Child Sex Tourism, also known as WCST, is when adults pay to direct and view live-streaming video footage of children in another country performing sexual acts in front of a webcam. The nature of those performances varies depending on the requests of predators. Child victims of WCST in the Philippines report that they pose naked, show intimate body parts, masturbate, and sometimes have sex with others at the request of predators in another country who pay to view and direct these sexual acts. WCST is the confluence of two forms of child sexual exploitation: child pornography and child prostitution. Thus, international laws and most national laws prohibit WCST, but, despite that fact, this form of child sex abuse is growing increasingly common. WCST is also known as ‘cybersex’ in the Philippines and as ‘live streaming’ in law enforcement reports.
How widespread is this phenomenon?
It is estimated that tens of thousands of children are victims of WCST in the Philippines alone. Due to the nature of the phenomenon, there is a shortage of accurate statistics; WCST leaves almost no evidence, and children rarely report these crimes to police. However, the estimate that tens of thousands of children are victims of WCST is confirmed by several expert sources. United Nations and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation estimate that there are 750,000 predators connected to the Internet at any given moment. We believe the global demand for WCST is at least that large.
In what countries does WCST occur?
WCST is known to take place on a large scale in the Philippines, but there is no compelling reason to believe that WCST does not also occur in other countries, particularly in Southeast Asia, where Internet access rates are climbing and there is a well-developed criminal infrastructure around child sexual exploitation and human trafficking. The first reports of this phenomenon are now emerging in African countries.
Is WCST really an “industry”?
When compared to child pornography and child prostitution, which are often run by organized criminal syndicates, it is not clear that WCST has yet been “industrialized” to the same extent. We refer to WCST as a “phenomenon” or a “trade” because we believe it has not yet grown to the extent that it can be characterized as an industry. But we have seen a rapid increase in the number of large-scale WCST operations, often run by non-nationals and with links to human trafficking. The WCST trade is growing very rapidly, and we predict that without intervention, WCST will rapidly grow into an uncontrollable global industry.
What is the difference between grooming and WCST?
Grooming is the process by which predators try to establish an emotional connection or friendship with a child for the purpose of coercing them to engage in sexual acts. It commonly happens within the borders of a country. Unlike grooming, WCST is based on a financial transaction between a predator and a child victim or the adult holding power over a child victim. In that sense, WCST more closely resembles child prostitution than grooming. Furthermore, WCST is transnational in that child victims live in developing nations and predators are most commonly from wealthy nations. WCST always involves payment in exchange for a child’s performance of sexual acts in front of a webcam, whereas grooming relies mostly on psychological manipulation.
How are children forced into the WCST trade?
Sometimes parents or family members coerce children to engage in WCST. Sometimes children are trafficked and held captive in “dens” with other kids who are forced to perform sexual acts in front of webcams. Sometimes child prostitutes sell webcam sex shows to predators around the world in order to supplement the income they make through street prostitution. For more information, please refer to our report "Becoming Sweetie:a novel approach to stopping the global rise of Webcam Child Sex Tourism", which is available for download on this site.
How old are most child victims of WCST?
It is difficult to give an average age because there are very few reliable statistics available. Based on our research and the findings of our partners in the field, the age of child victims of WCST ranges from 6 to 17 years old. News reports from the Philippines indicate that infants and babies have also been rescued from exploitation through WCST.
Are the victims mostly boys or girls?
Both boys and girls are victims of the WCST trade because predators around the world pay to view webcam sex shows performed by children of both genders.
How much money do children earn with WCST?
Our research suggests that predators will pay between $10 and $100 USD per show. The amount of money a child actually receives depends on several factors, including whether transactions are made through a pimp or a middleman, how long the show lasts, the nature of the performance, etc.
What kinds of sexual acts are children asked to perform?
During the 10-week research period in which we posed on public chat rooms as prepubertal Filipina girls, predators asked us to perform a broad range of sexual acts including smoking cigarettes while naked, masturbation, eating feces, having sex with older men, and having sex with family members.
What effect does performing sexual acts in front of webcams have on children?
Our published research and field experience in the Philippines shows that WCST has profound and permanent psychological effects on child victims. Children often suffer depression, anxiety, and aggression, which can manifest in physical illnesses and nightmares. Among several other effects, child victims often develop an abnormal understanding of sexuality and relationships. Children who are trafficked and held captive in dungeon-like “cybersex dens” may also endure physical abuse and neglect. For more information, please refer to our report which is available for download on this site.
If there is no physical contact during WCST, how severe is the trauma on children?
The absence of physical contact between predators and victims does not reduce the severity of the psychological trauma that WCST has on child victims. WCST gives predators direct access to vulnerable children for a small fee, which means they can abuse victims in other countries more easily and more frequently than ever before. Repeated sexual exploitation is extremely damaging to children.
Isn’t this the fault of the victim’s parents?
The circumstances that may lead parents to involve their children in the WCST trade are often complex and horrific. Some parents do not fully understand that, despite the absence of physical contact, this exploitation is severely traumatizing to children. We do not seek to place blame; rather, we try to focus our efforts on finding solutions. By educating communities of the psychological effects that this exploitation has on child victims, we hope to convince parents that WCST is never an answer to their financial problems. Our partner organisations in the Philippines also offer vocational training to parents and young people to provide long-term financial alternatives to child exploitation.
What is the alternative for these children in order to earn a living?
To protect victims of sexual exploitation, our partners provide shelter, health and psychosocial care, counseling, education, and vocational training. This allows children to develop into independent adults, to facilitate their return into society, to maximize their chances in the labor market, and to help them regain control over their lives. Given that poverty is one of the main factors contributing to the sexual exploitation of children, we also offer parents the opportunity to increase their income by providing access to savings and credit schemes.
How much money do you need to successfully rescue child victims of WCST?
This is difficult to answer and it can only be determined on a case-by-case basis. In general it can be stated that rehabilitation of victims and their reintegration back into society is a lengthy, often painful and costly process. In addition, the process is preceded by the equally vital phase of reaching out to these children, finding and identifying them, gaining their trust and unconditional acceptance of having to change their behavior—a necessary condition to successful treatment. However, just as an indication, Terre des Hommes Netherlands is currently supporting a shelter for victims of sexual exploitation in Cebu City in the Philippines at an annual cost of some 100,000 Euros.
Can you accurately estimate how many websites exist online that feature children or minors performing sexual acts in front of webcams?
No. During the course of this research, we found hundreds of websites upon which WCST commonly takes place, but that is likely to be just the tip of the iceberg. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation claims that there are 40,000 public chatrooms on which child predators are active and we saw during our research that predators seek to engage in WCST in these chat rooms. Additionally, we know that WCST commonly takes place on adult webcam sites, dating sites, and on social networking sites. As WCST becomes a more frequently occurring crime, one can be sure that the number of websites on which predators engage in WCST will continue to rise.
How long does it normally take to rehabilitate a child victim of WCST?
Once a child has become a victim of sexual abuse, rehabilitation can take many years. It is a long, painful, and labor-intensive process for children to overcome the trauma and psychosocial consequences of such abuse. Given the complexity of rehabilitating and reintegrating individual victims of sexual exploitation, our partner organisations apply additional strategies to fight the roots of the phenomenon of WCST. They invest in education, training, and capacity enhancement to prevent sexual exploitation, seek justice for the victims, offer legal aid, and train and assist police, public prosecution offices, and justice departments. They also seek to influence policy makers on local, national, and international levels to adopt, ratify, maintain, and enforce legislation to prevent child exploitation and to protect victims of such unacceptable practices.
Is WCST also happening via mobile phones?
Internet-connected mobile phones with cameras are now more prevalent in developing countries than Internet-connected computers. Although we did not specifically investigate the use of mobile phones in the WCST trade, there is no reason to believe that WCST is not sometimes taking place using mobile phones. Particularly as new messaging and social networking applications emerge, mobile phones will make WCST an increasingly easy means of sexually exploiting children.
How many predators engage in WCST, and how did you come up with an estimate?
We do not know how many predators engage in WCST, but the United Nations and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation estimate that there are 750,000 predators connected to the Internet at any time. Also, each year, an estimated 1 million predators travel to developing nations to sexually abuse children. Because WCST is much easier and cheaper than traditional child sex tourism, we predict that many more predators engage in WCST and they are likely to be doing it much more frequently. For more information, please refer to the report “Becoming Sweetie” available for download on this site.
Are all webcam child sex “tourists” pedophiles?
Not necessarily. Pedophilia is a psychiatric disorder characterized by a long-term primary sexual attraction to prepubertal children. Webcam child sex tourists can include a much larger population that includes pedophiles as well as adults seeking sexual performances from anyone, including extreme minors. That group of adults may not have a “long-term” or “primary” sexual attraction to prepubertal children, but they may just be unscrupulous and perverted enough to pay to view webcam sex performances by children when the opportunity arises. Research by the United Nations and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation has found that 750,000 predators are online at any moment, but that may only be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to estimating the true size of the global demand for WCST.
Why is there such a high demand for WCST?
We believe that there are two main reasons for the growing popularity of WCST. Firstly, WCST allows predators to interact with child victims and direct their sexual performances. In that WCST allows direct interaction between predators and victims, it is comparable to child prostitution and child sex tourism. But unlike child sex tourism, WCST does not have the physical risks or expenses associated with travelling abroad to engage in child sex tourism. Secondly, viewing sexual performances that are live-streamed via webcam does not leave permanent records on predators’ computer hard drives. Unlike viewing and downloading picture and video files depicting child abuse, which are stored on a computer and can be recovered by investigators, viewing WCST leaves few, if any, traces of evidence.
Does the “supply” of children offering webcam sex shows affect the “demand” for WCST?
Yes. Looking at this phenomenon from an economic perspective, we believe that the supply influences the demand and vice versa. Addressing only one side will not effectively reduce the growth of WCST—a solution requires tackling both the supply side and the demand side. Our partners focus on helping the victims of exploitation who comprise the supply side of this trade. We call on governments around the world to stop the demand for WCST by implementing proactive investigation policies and dedicating the resources necessary to catch and identify predators who are funding this abuse. As law enforcement agencies in developing nations are working hard to find those responsible for forcing children into WCST, we hope that governments of wealthier nations will also start fighting the demand side of the problem. For more information, please refer to the report “Becoming Sweetie” which is available for download on this site.
Is WCST a crime?
Yes. WCST is strictly prohibited by international laws as a form of sexual exploitation of children. We researched the national criminal codes of 21 countries and found that most countries have laws that either directly prohibit WCST or they have laws that can be interpreted as prohibiting WCST on the grounds that WCST is a form of child pornography and/or child prostitution, depending on the legal definitions of those two crimes in each country. Paying to view a sexual performance by a minor is widely prohibited globally. For more information on the legislative framework around the world that prohibits WCST, please refer to “Becoming Sweetie” our report available for download on this site.
At what point is an online conversation between an adult and a child defined as an offence?
It depends on the laws in the countries of both people involved. Some countries have laws prohibiting adults from conversing with minors about sex. Some countries prohibit “enticing” a minor to engage in sexual conduct. Other countries outlaw showing obscene images to minors, and most countries prohibit viewing sexual images and sexual performances involving minors. Thus, WCST is illegal in most countries. During our research, a person was considered a predator the moment he or she asked for, or accepted, a sexual performance from the researchers posing as prepubertal girls.
If WCST is such a new phenomenon, why is it already illegal in most countries?
WCST is a combination of child pornography and child prostitution, which are already illegal in most countries. The laws of most countries are written using broad enough language to outlaw newly emerging and future forms of child sexual abuse without specifically outlining the exact method in which that exploitation takes place. For more information, please refer to the report “Becoming Sweetie” which is available for download on this site.
Are all predators seeking WCST men, or are there also female predators?
There are also female predators. Research on pedophilia suggests that some women show long-term sexual attraction to prepubertal children. The percentage of females among the 750,000 predators estimated to be online is unknown, but our research confirmed the existence of female predators seeking to engage in WCST.
I have feelings of sexual attraction toward children, where can I go to seek help in suppressing my urges?
There are several organizations that provide counseling and support for people struggling to resist urges to sexually abuse children. We urge you to contact them now.
I know an adult who pays to engage in WCST, what should I do?
We urge you to immediately contact your local police department.
What is your proposed solution for WCST?
We propose that governments around the world adopt proactive law enforcement policies that promote the use of proactive investigation techniques and provide resources for law enforcement units to patrol Internet hotspots where WCST is known to take place. These hotspots include online dating sites, social networking sites, public chat rooms, and adult webcam sites. We have tested and proven the effectiveness of a proactive investigation technique that involves posing as prepubertal children on public chat rooms and luring predators who are seeking webcam sex shows from children into providing identifying information
What can governments do about WCST?
Governments should adopt policies that give their law enforcement agencies the mandate to proactively search for predators seeking to engage in WCST on public online places known to be hotspots for child abuse. We are offering all law enforcement agencies our assistance in the form of an extensive Investigation Toolkit that explains our proven-effective method of finding and identifying online predators. Furthermore, we are offering law enforcement agencies the operational software developed for the Sweetie project and training in how to use it.
Why do most governments have reactive policies in place?
Classic reactive law enforcement policies mean that police and law enforcement agencies do not investigate child exploitation until a crime is reported. In the case of WCST, child victims usually do not report the crimes. That is often because children are intimidated and fearful of consequences or because they and their families depend on the income generated through webcam sex performances. The reliance of law enforcement agencies on child victims to report these crimes is based on an outdated model of online child exploitation, which addresses crimes related to online grooming by predators, but fails to respond to exploitation through WCST.
Do you blame the police or the existing laws for the rise of WCST?
No. Most countries already have laws that ban WCST and we have the utmost respect for law enforcement units working to stop child abuse and exploitation. The rise of WCST is not a result of weak existing laws or a lack of effort by police forces—it is the result of most governments’ reactive investigation policies, which prevent law enforcement agencies from doing more to enforce existing laws and stop WCST. Reactive law enforcement policies must be replaced by proactive ones.
If WCST is such a big problem, why is the United Nations not doing anything about it?
In 2005, the United Nations was one of the first to report on the emergence of WCST. The Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Violence Against Children works tirelessly to pressure governments to ratify and implement international standards protecting the rights of children. The UN was also responsible for the creation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its optional protocols. But the UN is not a law enforcement organization—it does not have the mandate to take action against predators and other criminals involved in the WCST trade. It is up to national governments and law enforcement agencies to crack down on WCST by enforcing their existing laws and adopting proactive investigation policies.
What was your motivation for beginning this campaign?
We have seen at firsthand the damaging effects that WCST has on child victims. We have heard the terrible stories of abuse and exploitation told by children as young as six years old. In some countries, including the Philippines, this phenomenon is growing so fast that we are confronted with its impact on a daily basis. It has become clear that WCST is growing out of control and that helping victims and educating communities about the dangers of WCST is not enough to combat its rise. For this campaign, we decided to directly address the demand side of the WCST trade, which is fueling the growth in the number of child victims. But we expect governments and law enforcement agencies around the world to adopt and implement proactive investigation policies that will combat the global demand for WCST.
What exactly do you want to achieve with this campaign?
We want to end the perception among predators that the Internet is a lawless space where they can freely abuse children. We want to instill in predators a fear of being caught and punished for crimes they commit against children, even if those children are located in other countries. To do this, we need to pressure governments around the world to adopt proactive investigation policies and enforce the existing laws against online child abuse.
How are you planning to achieve this?
By mobilizing citizens around the world. We hope to reach as many people as possible with our message and to gather at least 1 million signatures on our petition. By mobilizing the world, we can put more pressure on governments to change their current reactive policies toward online child exploitation to proactive policies, which will increase the presence of law enforcements agencies on Internet hotspots where we know WCST occurs on a regular basis.
Shouldn’t you focus on rescuing children, rather than playing the role of police?
Absolutely!Terre des Hommes as an NGO has always focused on rescuing children and that is what they will continue to do with our help. But we have a responsibility not only to help children who have been victimized, but also to help future generations of children who will fall victim to WCST if this problem is not urgently addressed by governments around the world. This campaign strategy was the most effective way to bring the issue of WCST to the world’s attention and to publicize our proposed solution. We are asking law enforcement agencies around the world to take over the fight against the global demand for WCST by applying proactive investigation policies and techniques. When this happens, we can then focus entirely on assisting child victims. Local police and law enforcement agencies in most wealthy nations are concentrating on investigating instances of online grooming that take place within the borders of their country, but they are not so much focused on online child exploitation in which children and predators are in different countries. That policy must change so children everywhere are protected.
Won’t this campaign increase the number of predators seeking WCST?
It is possible that predators will learn about WCST from this campaign, but the only way to stop the growth of WCST is to raise global awareness about it and to address the problem directly. Exposing this phenomenon will inspire people to urge their governments to adopt proactive investigation policies. We also believe that this campaign will convince predators that they cannot commit these crimes with impunity.
Why don’t you confront the predators directly by showing them the effects that their behaviour has on child victims?
The goal of our campaign is to pressure governments to adopt and apply proactive investigation policies in order to identify and stop predators. Additionally, we aim to inform the world about WCST and the traumatizing effects it has on children. Predators are also a part of the target audience of this campaign. They will see the effects of their crimes as well as the global efforts to stop them. They will also see that that the Internet is not a lawless space where they can freely abuse children.
How good are the statistics that you refer to in your research report?
The statistics we used in our report have been provided and confirmed by reliable sources, including governments, NGOs, law enforcement agencies, and/or United Nations agencies. Because of the nature of WCST and the fact that it has emerged so recently, precise quantitative data is not always available. When we couldn’t find hard data, we relied on estimates provided by reliable organizations or sources with expertise in this field.
Shouldn’t action also be taken against the financial side of the WCST trade?
Yes. There has been some work by a number of coalitions of credit card and money transfer companies to reduce the ease of transferring money to pay for online child exploitation. But, while those initiatives are helpful, it is impossible for them to identify what each international transaction is paying for. We know from our field research that anonymous international money transfers are easy to perform. As practices in online child exploitation evolve, we hope financial institutions will find new ways to block the transactions made to pay for child exploitation. But we believe that the bulk of the effort to combat online child exploitation is the responsibility of governments and law enforcement agencies.
In carrying out the undercover research how much time did you spend identifying predators online?
Four researchers spent a combined total of 1,600 hours over the course of 10 weeks in 2013 working to identify 1,000 predators. But we are continuing to research the phenomenon of WCST, learning about the situation on the ground for child victims in the Philippines, developing a strategy to identify predators, researching the legality of our undercover work and the legal frameworks prohibiting WCST around the world, as well as developing the computer model of Sweetie and additional software.
How exactly did you track down the identities of predators?
During chat conversations with predators, they would provide small bits of information. Using the information trails that most people leave on the Internet, we could trace the clues predators provided us to online data that revealed their identities. The exact method of gathering information from predators and connecting it to online data has been outlined in a comprehensive Investigation Toolkit, which we have shared with law enforcement agencies around the world.
What sort of chat rooms did you visit during the course of your research?
We mainly gathered information on chat rooms that were tailored to children and teens and we avoided chat rooms with explicitly erotic themes. We have shared the names of the chat rooms on which we conducted this research with law enforcement agencies, but we are not publicizing their names. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation has estimated that there are 40,000 chat rooms on which child predators pose a threat to children, so the sample of chat rooms on which we gathered information is likely to be representative of the norm.
How did you start a conversation?
We never started conversations with people in chat rooms. We waited for individuals to initiate conversations with the four researchers who were claiming to be prepubertal children. Once that happened, the researchers reminded the individual that he was chatting with a child. If predators requested or accepted an offer to view a child perform a live webcam sex show, the researchers began working to identify them.
What kind of information did you collect on those predators?
We saved all communication with predators, including chat conversations and webcam footage. We also compiled all relevant information on predators that could be found online. The Internet increases the opportunities available to predators seeking to abuse children, but it also offers a number of tools that can be strategically used to catch and identify them. The Investigation Toolkit, available to all law enforcement agencies, provides a full explanation of how the researchers collected information.
What is the difference between your method of identifying predators and hacking?
We identified predators by finding publicly available information on online databases, including social networking sites, online phone books and search engines. We compared photos found online with screen captures taken from webcam conversations with predators. The difference between hacking and the method we used is that our method is totally legal and it respects the norms of individual privacy. Our method of identifying predators is a highly effective way for law enforcement agencies to lawfully identify online predators.
What did you do with the identities of the 1,000 predators and the evidence you collected against them?
The research team grouped the predators by country to distribute to local and national law enforcement agencies in the 71 countries in which those 1,000 predators live.Since then, as far as we know, arrests and convictions have taken place in Australia, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands, Poland and the UK.
What exactly did a person have to do or say to be included on your list of predators?
A person had to complete two steps before they were considered predators and before researchers began trying to identify them. First, they had to approach a researcher who was posing in a chat room as a prepubertal child—researchers used chat names that clearly indicated their age (10), gender (female), and location (the Philippines). It was clear that individuals who approached the researchers were interested in interacting with a 10-year-old child. To be certain, researchers again reminded individuals that they were speaking with a 10-year-old. Second, the individual had to request or accept an offer to view a webcam sex show performed by a 10-year-old. Researchers asked individuals to pay to view the performance. At that point, we considered the individual a predator and we began to work to identify them. Predators included on the list were at least 18 years of age. For more information, please refer to the report, which is available for download on this site.
Were all conversations sexually explicit?
No, on rare occasions individuals were only interested to know why such a young child was present in a public chat room. However, roughly 99% of all the conversation we had in the public chat rooms was sexually explicit in nature.