New Czech documentary shines light on online child abuse

Photo: ČTK/Kamaryt Michal

A hotly anticipated Czech documentary highlighting the danger posed by online predators premieres in Prague on Tuesday. Presenting over-18 actresses as 12-year-olds on fake social media profiles, Caught in the Net exposes a disturbing phenomenon – and has already led to police action.

After much build-up, V síti, or Caught in the Net, finally reaches Czech cinema screens this week.

Photo: Czech Television
The documentary – first conceived as an online safety video – turns the tables on predators by recording their interactions with actresses they believe to be young adolescents.

Co-director Barbora Chalupová describes the set-up at the filmmakers’ specially prepared studio.

“We created three bedrooms. In casting we selected three over-18 actresses who pretended they were only 12. And we set up fake online profiles for them, where for a period of 10 days they communicated with men. This phenomenon takes place behind children’s bedroom doors, which was the stumbling block of the whole shoot. That’s why we chose the 'hoax' format.”

Co-director Vít Klusák says the experience was tougher than his team had anticipated going into the three-year project.

“What shocked us during shooting was that whenever we thought we’d seen the worst, something even worse came along. After child porn there was animal porn. That was followed by threats and blackmail. It just kept going further and deeper. It was like a shock-filled ride to hell.”

Over 10 days of shooting, almost 2,500 men, some in their 60s, contacted the purported 12-year-olds.

The young-looking actresses even met a number of them in person, watched over by hidden cameras and security.

Vít Klusák,  photo: Ondřej Tomšů
Whenever the predators appear on screen their faces are obscured by specially created “digital masks”.

The Czech police requested some of the filmed material and have launched several criminal investigations. Vít Klusák continues:

“When we were originally preparing the film, our idea was, Let’s raise a lot of noise around this subject, but we won’t criminalise these men. Our aim wasn’t to hunt down anybody and report them to the police. But we didn’t know then what awaited us – that it would progress to blackmail, that they would send us child porn. So in the end we had to involve the police, because we were witness to a number of crimes.”

As well as the regular Caught in the Net, there is also a second, educational version with a 12+ rating.

A series of screenings is planned around the country followed by talks in which teens can put their questions to the directors and three actresses, including Anežka Pitharthová.

“I really would like to share with them, or to show them, that communication between people in normal life is more valuable than on social networks. I just don’t like how everybody is moving onto social networks and communicates through them. And I would like to show them that it’s better to talk in real life.”

Photo: ČTK/Kamaryt Michal