Enticed by the pretty face who sent him a Facebook friend request, 14-year-old Boom* struck up a friendship online with an imposter, a 20-year-old ladyboy who was posing as a teen heartthrob.
One thing led to another, and the unsuspecting Boom fell head over heels in love with a person he believed was a woman over a video live chat. The imposter gained the boy’s trust to the point that he got carried away and masturbated while on one of their live chats unaware he was being recorded. The ladyboy sold the clip of the boy on Twitter.
Boom’s school friends eventually got a hold of this clip and he became the laughingstock of the school. The embarrassment took a toll on the teen and his grades started to fall, and he fell into depression. His parents eventually got wind of what had happened and took him to file a complaint at the police station.
It was at this juncture that Thailand Internet Crimes Against Children (TICAC) task force were notified. They contacted the US embassy in Thailand for help, and finally traced the Facebook and Twitter accounts to a ladyboy in Khon Kaen province.
“This is one among many criminal cases on the internet that TICAC has investigated through painstaking dedication, perseverance and team work, ” said Pol Col Thakoon Nimsomboon, head of operations team.
“Usually the victims are emotionally and physically in a bad shape when we reach them. As a father myself, it is disturbing to witness the trauma these children undergo. Someone has to get the work done, so we are determined to do all that is in our power to first rescue the child victim and than catch the perpetrators. Even though we have to sit through hours of footage of vile acts being done on children to determine the location or name of the victim.”
Thakoon, who has a doctorate in criminal justice from a US-based university, said he hopes to increase awareness of child predators lurking online. Parents and teachers in particular have to be on alert, he said, because children today are computer savvy and mature earlier than previous generations.
Alarmingly, while child and adult pornography is widely accessible on the internet, very little has been done globally to protect children from becoming victims, he said.
He suggested data be kept on criminals and shared with the public when deemed necessary. Adding that while government-run agencies have began this process, it is still in its infancy stage.
The public has the right to know if they are safe among their neighbours. To make his point, Thakoon shared a case where a young woman was raped and murdered by a man who lived next door to her.
The case raised concerns at many levels, he said. “Doesn’t everyone have the right to know if they are safe where they live so they can take precautions. If I have a young daughter, it is my right to know as a father that the man who has rented the flat next to mine is not a paedophile.
“We can no longer brush this issue under the carpet by saying people who have served a jail sentence especially for heinous crimes have the right to not inform the public when they are released.”
Another disturbing observation made by Thakoon was the young age of paedophiles he came to meet during his investigations, contrary to the popular belief that paedophiles are old men. The youngest he has come across was only 15. The Thai teenager had began targeting toddlers years earlier.
“I was rather taken aback to see this young man tell me how he was sexually aroused by three-year-old children. Before meeting him, I had presumed paedophiles to be much older,” he said. “Some of the youngest victims are just a couple of months old.”
Offenders come from all walks of life and nationalities. Some are from highly respected careers.
Thakoon said the public and government have to work together to build a society where people have the right to reside in a safe environment. Pol Col Soonthorn Arunnara leads the TICAC team in the northeast. The law enforcement officer is credited for playing a pivotal role in amending the law stipulating penalties for the possession of child pornography.
He said the most challenging aspect of his work with TICAC was to observe society’s indifference towards children.
He based this assumption on how criminal cases are prioritised. Raising the rape/murder of Nong Cartoon, the six-year-old who was murdered by a man who had previously killed 10 children, he said: “This case, while making headline news, did little to stir up support to protect our children, in contradiction to drug-related cases where there is huge support. Criminal minds use these loopholes for their benefit. TICAC was set up in part to see that our children take first priority.” In terms of evidence, he said that when law enforcement work on crimes that are committed online, there is often not as such tangible evidence as they would see in a drug-related case, so it is plausible this could put people off showing a greater amount of interest in addressing crimes of a sexual nature involving children.
Soonthorn said the attitude Thais have towards child pornography was also troubling. During the amending of the law stipulating penalties for the possession of child pornography, he said he received a barrage of criticism from the public for his stance. “By and large the attitude was ‘what’s the big deal’, this really made it all the more necessary for me to see it become law,” Soonthorn said.
“Thai society still views the situation of watching child pornography in a light-hearted manner. They feel it is OK to watch because they are not physically touching the child.”
To address the issue of cyber crime against children, both officers suggest parents and teachers work closely to offer mentors for different age groups, so when an issue arises, children are able to be counselled by a reliable person. Instead of totally depending on police to keep them safe, they should form neighbourhood watch groups.
As parents themselves, both felt it was up to fathers and mothers to foster better ties with their children, saying: “Parents have to teach children about the birds and the bees before they learn it from people with ill intentions. Keep a close tab on the websites kids are on today. If you build trust with your child, there is little to worry.”
TICAC task force, set up on Jan 8, 2016, is supported by the FBI and the US Department of Homeland Security, and designed to share intelligence.
There are currently 135 officers, 114 men and 21 women, working around the clock.
Utilising a US model, TICAC combats sexual exploitation facilitated via the internet. For instance, Thai law enforcement officials just started working directly with the US National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children to share real-time information about victims and offenders. Once victims are detected, the next step is providing them with assistance, standard practice for the FBI.
For TICAC, victim assistance is not just the morally correct course of action, it provides information that helps police more effectively investigate lawbreakers.