In Dante’s Inferno, treachery is the ninth circle of Hell. The traffickers, users and abusers populating the human trafficking sites on the darknet where the vulnerable sections of humanity get betrayed in most perfidious ways would easily stack up for the tenth circle if Dante were to create one today.
Inconceivable debauchery and depravity witnessed here are downright disgusting.
Benjamin Faulkner, a Canadian, was the owner of “Child's Play,”, a dark-net child pornography website that at its peak had over 1 million profiles. The website showcased over 100 producers of pornography who raped and brutalised children and shot videos of their sadism for the keen delight of paedophiles around the world.
After running the site for the first six months, the United States Department of Homeland Security captured Benjamin Faulkner along with his associate Patrick Falte when they met in Virginia on October 2016. At the time of his arrest, Faulkner carried on his electronic devices a child porn collection of 47,000 images and 2,900 videos. His associate Falte had been an administrator on “The GiftBox Exchange”, another darknet child pornography site that the authorities shut down in November 2016. They sentenced both to life imprisonment.
After the arrest of the founders, for the remaining eleven months the Australian Queensland Police Service's Task Force Argos took over “Child’s Play” and clandestinely administered the site as a part of “Operation Artemis”. Police officers Jon Rouse and Paul Griffiths of Queensland Police impersonated the website’s founders for 11 months, engaging with paedophiles and sharing material online with the object of catching perpetrators as a part of ‘Operation Artemis’, a joint investigation effort involving Australian, American and European authorities. The undercover operation resulted in the identification of 90% of the users and 1,000 arrests. Amnesty International also condemned the actions as “unacceptable under human rights law”. Ivar Stokkereit, a legal adviser to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Norway, stated this was “a clear infringement of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, even though the police’s motive was to prevent new offences in the long run.”
Interpol meanwhile was monitoring another notorious trafficking ring called the Black Death Group based in Eastern Europe that was operating on the Dark-Web and involved with selling sex slaves to Saudi Arabia as well as Dark-Web virgin auctions of girls as young as 15. Creepy adverts for the girls included their age, hair colour and measurements. The group had recently posted a creepy advert of a “fully booked” auction of a 15-year-old named Laura, with a starting price of £575,000. They had also put the online sale of a 17-year-old girl born in the UK named as Gemma in 2016. The Brit teen had a starting price of £92,000. The advert also claimed that the abductors “do not sell girls that are terminally ill, pregnant, have STDs or are young mothers”.
The gang also said “that they could transport their victims globally,” and they were also willing to kidnap a specific target for one’s needs. But such a service would come at a considerable price, especially for destinations outside Europe. In July 2017, news surfaced that two individuals claiming to be members of the Black Death Group had abducted a British model, named Chloe Ayling. The abduction of Chloe had occurred when she had travelled to Milan for a photoshoot. Ayling, hailing from Coulsdon, UK and aged 20 was working in London for Phil Green’s Supermodel Agency at the time of the abduction. After Ayling had reached Milan, the next morning, Green received a ransom email, apparently from “The Black Death Group” and written by “MD” (Lukasz Herba) demanding £300,000 or else he would auction off Ayling as a sex-slave on the dark web on 16 July. Helpless Green contacted the UK consulate in Italy for support. When the Italian police visited the address, they found no photo studio. Instead, they found a room with some of Ayling’s clothes. However, on July 18,2017 police arrested Lukasz Herba, a Polish national for the abduction of the model.
Investigators who initially interrogated Herba learnt that he had injected Ayling with ketamine, handcuffed and put her in a holdall bag, and drove her in the dickie of his car to a house near Turin. Ayling confirmed that she had woken up inside a suitcase in the trunk of a car wearing a pink bodysuit and socks. She said “Herba had tied her to a wooden dresser for six days, during which he had told her he would sell her to Arabs.” who would “feed her to tigers when they got bored with her”. Herba had also reportedly told Ayling that he had made £15 million ($17.7 million) sex-trafficking kidnapped women and selling them via the deep web on the Black Death Group Website. However, Herba later got convicted by a Milan court for the kidnapping and was sentenced to 16 years and nine months in prison on June 2018.
Dark-net is a perfect sanctuary for merchants of child pornography with sites such as Hard Candy, Jailbait, Lolita City, PedoEmpire, Love Zone, The Family Album, Kindergarten Porn etc which allow paedophiles to connect and share fantasies, practice child love, and exchange detailed tactics on ways of targeting, seducing, and engaging in sexual acts with children. The volume of these activities is mind-boggling. Some sites have over one lakh registered pedophile members. According to some Law enforcement sources 19 percent of pedophiles have sexual abuse images of children younger than three years old, 39 percent younger than six years old, and 83 percent younger than twelve years old. Across the Dark Web, experienced pedophiles teach one another how to evade law enforcement authorities and discuss encryption and anonymity techniques to avoid detection online. In the United States alone, traffickers traffic nearly 200,000 children for sex, and a pimp can generate $150,000 to $200,000 a year per child. A disturbing report from Europol says that several dark net websites provide live streaming of the rape and abuse of children. Pedophiles in Asia connect to video feeds where they direct, the child-rapists to carry out specific fantasies. In one incident investigated by police, a person could order a group of eight men to rape an eight-year-old girl directing his fantasies in real time for a paltry sum of $100. As the images are streamed instead of being downloaded, there is no recorded evidence to prove the crimes.
Surprisingly, child sex traffickers may be strangers, but they can also be family members, friends, guardians, or acquaintances. Nearly half of all identified cases of child trafficking begin with some family member involvement, and the extent of family involvement in the trafficking of children is up to four times higher than in cases of adult trafficking. In Germany, at the town of Staufen, near Freiburg, a couple using their son operated a paedophile ring like a business. Investigations revealed that the abusers had paid up to £10,000 a time to abuse their son. The couple also made videos of the abuse which they sold for large sums on the darknet; The mother threatened her son with foster care if he reported it to the police. The 48-year-old woman and her partner, 39, a convicted paedophile, got a conviction for forced prostitution, rape, sexual and physical abuse, humiliation, and bondage for almost 60 separate identified acts by the court.
The dark-net has about 2.5 million daily visitors. It’s a perfect sanctuary for criminal organisations and terror groups to communicate, advertise, or buy or sell anything, including human beings. Of it all, human trafficking is the most attractive and lucrative crime. Over a two-year time frame traffickers spent about $250 million to post over 60 million advertisements, in anywhere between 30,000 and 40,000 Dark-Web pages according to a research done in the USA. It even beats drug trafficking hollow. The U.N. recently estimated that trafficking nets $150 billion a year. As this is being read, about 21 million people are being trafficked, of which more than half are women and girls and over one million are children. And as much as 25 percent of them get bought and sold as sex slaves.
Criminal organisations have taken to human trafficking like a fish takes to the water because it is easy and inexpensive to buy, move and exploit vulnerable girls and children. Also, low risk of detection and prosecution of technology-facilitated human trafficking compared to the risk associated with traditional, forms of trafficking makes online sex trafficking an attractive illegal activity. One child or girl can generate several thousand dollars a day for traffickers as they can subject them to daily abuse and repeated sale unlike other illicit activities like the drug trade. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates “globally, two-thirds of the profits from forced labour get generated by forced sexual exploitation, generating the US $99 billion per year.” Approximately 5.5 million children under the age of 18 get forced into labor, and authorities estimate that over one million are victims of forced sexual exploitation.
An anonymous major player in Deep Web, going by the pseudonym “HeadOfHydra”, in one forum declared that most illegal sellers on Deep Web had customers in India. According to him, “Some sellers were reportedly searching for a Hindi/English-speaking staffers to have localised markets for countries like India, China and Brazil”. For Indians most activities on the Tor browser are illegal. “Activities on Tor are punishable under the Information Technology Act, 2000.
Deep Web provides not only a hiding place for human traffickers and pornographers; It has become a haven for many of them. Authorities estimate that 50,000 people in the U.S. alone access the Deep Web for trading child pornography. The nature of the Deep Web makes it very difficult to track down these people, despite the best efforts of the government. The deep web is the reflection of the real world; deep web is nothing more than an eyehole into this unfortunate reality. A solution for which lies in the real world. We all live in an interconnected world. We are all ONE. If one is suffering, all are suffering; Therefore, the onus is upon us to do all we can to end human exploitation.
(Dr Jayanth K. Murali IPS, is ADGP (Law and Order) Tamil Nadu. He can be contacted at www.jayanthmurali.com)...