Mum of 3 transforms herself into teen girls to catch predators online 1 year ago

Mum of 3 transforms herself into teen girls to catch predators online

"We tell them at the outset that we are underage."

A 38-year-old mum of three, who started a non-profit working to reduce grooming and sexual exploitation online, transforms herself into teenage girls in order to catch predators in the US.

Roo Powell founded SOSA (Safe from Online Sex Abuse) in 2020 to "reduce the amount of online exploitation by identifying dangerous pockets of the Internet, speaking at schools, and encouraging state legislators to raise the age of consent."

"We also help law enforcement track down offenders by using fictitious underage characters," she told Elle. "We call them 'decoys.'"

Roo and SOSA's rolling staff bring these decoys to life at a large rental house that contains four bedrooms (each furnished like that of a teen girl), two set-dressed bathrooms, a kitchen that serves its purpose in realism, and a living room that acts as a planning room for the team's operations.

There's also a wardrobe full of wigs, coloured contacts, clothes and even fake braces to help make the teen transformations as realistic as possible.

The team also includes someone who takes and edits pictures, a social media manager and a person who builds the decoys to make them believable (such as determining their astrological signs, where they're from, and what their favourite hobbies are).

Unlike vigilante groups, SOSA works to gather information in order to identify predators, then turns over their findings to law enforcement.


"One question I get a lot is whether I am somehow exploiting these perpetrators," Roo continues. "We let the predators drive the conversation by taking a hands-off approach. We tell them at the outset that we are underage.

"We also do a lot of reminders, like 'I’m coming home from school,' or 'I just did my algebra homework,' or 'I wish I was old enough to drive.' We offer off-ramps, too, telling them, 'We don’t have to meet if you don't want to,' or 'Are you sure you want to be talking to me and not someone your own age?'

"...At SOSA, we’re interested in detecting patterns around how predators target children. What we’ve found is that they tend to start by asking about parental oversight. We’ll be communicating with an ACM (or an 'adult contacting a minor') and right away they say, 'Tell me about your dad.'"

SOSA's activities are now documented in a new series called Undercover Underage. It's currently streaming on the US version of Discovery+, and we're hoping it'll be available here soon.

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