The statistics that open the new Czech documentary project V síti (Caught in the Net) alone are scary: 60% of Czech teens use the internet without parental restrictions. Half of them chat with strangers online. 41% have been sent a pornographic image by a stranger.
But the reality captured in V síti is even more distressing. Within five minutes of signing up a new account on a popular Czech social networking site, a 12-year-old girl has received dozens of requests from older men. Within minutes of exchanging messages with the first one, she has received a dick pic.
For the purposes of V síti, the 12-year-old girl is not an actual 12-year-old girl but Tereza Těžká, a twenty-something actress hired to portray a pre-teen for the making of the film. She’s joined by Anežka Pithartová and Sabina Dlouhá, and three bedrooms are created in a studio using elements from their own lives.
Over the next 10 days, this trio of actresses playing 12-year-olds are approached by 2,458 predators through Facebook, Skype, and the Czech social networking site Lide.cz.
Directors Barbora Chalupová and Vít Klusák have designed V síti to showcase the kind of online experience a 12-year-old girl in the Czech Republic can expect to have in 2020. A few key rules are set in place: the girls never initiate contact, they repeatedly tell the men that they are 12 years old, always defer sexual discussion by saying “I’m shy” or “I don’t know”, and they don’t respond to requests for nude pics unless unduly pressured.
Many will go into V síti with preconceptions about online predators from TV shows like To Catch a Predator: of pedophiles who groom children online, arrange a meeting in the hopes of sexual contact, and get busted by Chris Hanson.
But the true nature of the majority of sex predators in V síti is starkly different. They don’t want to initiate meetings and sexual contact with the 12-year-old girls, and aren’t interested in creating a relationship. They instead want to video chat with them while masturbating – in explicit detail – and hang up as soon as they ejaculate. Many of them have their hands under the table as soon as the chat is initiated.
“What are you doing?” one of the girls asks a man in his sixties while talking to him about his grandchildren.
“Oh, I’m just… polishing something off.”
This utilitarian exploitation of young girls – of fulfilling an immediate sexual need, then abandoning contact – is something the filmmakers are surprised to discover minutes into the film. But it will repeat itself throughout the project. Most of these men are not interested in establishing relationships but only getting instant gratification; one even begs a girl to help him ejaculate, lest he end up in the hospital.
Ultimately, the girls in V síti do arrange 24 meetings at Prague locations with the more familiar types of predators seeking sexual contact, and get them to describe the kinds of sexual acts they are seeking.
Distressingly, there’s no Chris Hanson or police waiting for these men after the meetings. A glass of lemonade in the face of one particularly nasty specimen, who posted a girl’s nude photos (made by pasting one of the actresses faces on the body of a model) online and refused to remove them unless she complied with his demands, is of little solace.
An end-credit note, however, reveals that the filmmakers have passed all information to police, and that some cases are already being prosecuted.
But the intent of V síti is not to punish these particular offenders but to shine a light on the kind of world that has been created for young web users, particularly in the Czech Republic. It achieves that goal with frightening precision.
V síti is an unflinching, eye-opening film that ought to be seen by as many people possible, and might get the chance: it’s been playing to sold-out audiences in Prague, and opened at the #5 position at the Czech box office this weekend, which is unheard of for a documentary.
V síti is screening in both an 18+ version full of explicit material that is digitized but leaves nothing to the imagination, along with a school-friendly 12+ version.
In Prague, you can see V síti (Caught in the Net) with English subtitles at Kino Světozor and Edison Filmhub.