Everyone suspects it, hardly anyone notices it, and yet the danger posed by so-called cybergrooming for children and young people is omnipresent. The Eastern European documentation CAUGHT IN THE NET illustrates the perversion of using internet anonymity to exploit young people’s insecurities in order to involve them in sexually charged conversations – and more – with sometimes drastic images and is worth a look for that very reason.
OT: V siti (CZE/SVK 2020)
That’s what it’s about
It only takes one click: Young people are exposed to the massive threat of cybergrooming on digital media every day. Adult men shamelessly exploit the naivety, ignorance or inexperience of young people online. “Trapped on the Net” documents what is happening almost everywhere in the world in haunting images. The documentary is a film experiment that highlights the taboo topic of abuse of children and young people online: three adult actresses, three children’s rooms, 10 days and 2,458 men with clear intentions. The three very girlish-looking actors, who pretend to be 12-year-olds using fictitious online profiles, chat with men of all ages from carefully recreated ‘children’s rooms’ in a film studio. Six cameras film the events, while the experiment is also accompanied by lawyers and psychologists.
“Attack on our children” – that was the name of the RTL experiment that was broadcast in prime time on the private channel in May of this year and with which the editorial team led by presenter Steffen Hallaschka wanted to draw attention to the topic of cybergrooming. The reactions to this were almost uniform: The program, which was supervised by psychologists and lawyers and featured three particularly young-looking but demonstrably adult actors, followed three young people on a foray through the Internet, which subsequently caused horror. In chat programs and forums, it should be observed how long it would take before adults (in the show only men) would try to chat with significantly younger users in the shadow of anonymity despite their much older age. The requirement: In the first few minutes of the chat, the adults should be told that they have just made contact with an underage person. Only in the rarest of cases (one of which was picked out and illustrated as a prime example) did the users abandon their chat initiation. “Attacking our children” had something downright revolutionary at the time, but this idea is not entirely new. The Czech-Slovak documentary “Trapped on the Net” was the inspiration for the RTL show, but is only now being released due to the corona-related cinema closures after the TV broadcast in the cinemas. The findings of both formats are almost identical. And yet “Trapped in the Net” goes a little further in the crucial moments.
View into the studio with the film crew and supervisory staff.
By this we don’t just mean that the risk for the Eastern European acting cast increases significantly, especially towards the end of the documentary, when the camera actually films the young women in physical meetings with their chat acquaintances who reveal their clear intentions in advance (always accompanied, of course the film team, which can intervene immediately in an emergency). But also the fact how much more compressed the crimes presented here are depicted. Although “Attack on Our Children” took up an entire evening on RTL, it was not only interrupted by advertising but was also “lightened up” with interview parts, if you can even call it that in this context. In short: Even if it was difficult because of the topic alone, the Cologne private broadcaster gave its audience the opportunity to take a quick breather. The film “Trapped on the Net”, which was designed explicitly for the cinema, lasts a full 100 minutes and anyone who actually watches the project on the screen (and not later in their home cinema version) simply has no opportunity to appreciate the numerous impressions on the screen to withdraw. “Withdrawal” is to be understood literally at this point. Because even if the directing duo consists of Barbora Chalupová and Vít Klusák (“Good Driver Smetana”) has tried to achieve an almost scientific standard (there is a meticulously equipped film studio, numerous pastors of various kinds are on site and police investigations were even started afterwards), over time the perception shifts from “I’m just watching a scientific experiment!” to “I am witnessing the depths of humanity!” to the point that emotional distancing is hardly possible anymore.
“The film “Trapped on the Net”, which was designed explicitly for the cinema, lasts a full 100 minutes and anyone who actually watches the project on the screen (and not later in their home cinema version) simply has no opportunity to experience the numerous impressions on the screen To remove canvas. “Withdrawal” is to be understood literally at this point.”
In order to underline the urgency of their concerns, the makers sometimes resort to radical means. In particular, the (pixelated) display of numerous male genitals in combination with lewd messages, which – we repeat again – are knowingly sent by adults to minors, hit even hardened viewers hard in the stomach. “Trapped on the Internet” provides fewer answers apart from the well-known appeal to parents and legal guardians to keep an eye on their children’s Internet habits and to closely analyze their children’s behavior. Instead, the documentary illustrates how brazen and careless the perpetrators can be if the young people don’t immediately realize what their new chat friend’s intentions are. This weakens the argument that something like this would never happen to one’s own child, because the mechanisms behind such acts are often so simple (sympathy-seeking is the be-all and end-all here) that even smart kids in unsteady phases of mental maturity are not immune to such people the glue to go. “Trapped on the Net” doesn’t want to offer new solutions so much as raise awareness.
Actress Sabina Dlouhá chatting.
The fact that this experiment was made up of young-looking but adult actresses (in the RTL version a boy completed the trio of actors) and not of actual minors is certainly a necessary given. Because an experiment like this requires an understanding of the topic – above all, in order to build up a distance from the event. Nevertheless, the ensemble often finds it visibly difficult, both in front of and behind the camera, to act completely from the director’s, producer’s or actress’s perspective. The audacity of the cyber groomers affects everyone in the team. Psychological support was available at all times to ensure the mental stability of everyone involved. In the finished film, Barbora Chalupová and Vít Klusák obviously attach great importance to showing the emotional security that prevailed during filming for everyone involved; Almost as if they even wanted to apologize to some extent for having put the participants in such a situation. Nevertheless, everyone involved in the documentation has their concerns permanently written on their faces. And the higher the number of impending abuse scenarios shown in the film, the more the viewer understands why such an illustration of human depths is necessary. If even one child is helped by this film, “Trapped in the Net” will have achieved its goal. Nevertheless, with this approach you have to admit that the perpetrators are given much greater importance in this film than the victims. The USA version, of all things, was a little more varied, for which parents of affected children were invited to the studio, among other things.
“Everyone in the team is visibly affected by the audacity of the cyber groomers. Psychological support was available at all times to ensure the mental stability of everyone involved.”
Speaking from a purely cinematic perspective, “Trapped on the Net” impresses with its immediacy. A large part of the documentary takes place in the various chat rooms and forums. The screen is constantly filled with suggestive chats. Every now and then you see male genitals and men making explicit gestures. Only towards the end does the experiment move out of this protected space. This is when the camera follows the actresses as they get involved in real meetings with their online acquaintances. The knowledge that a support staff was permanently present on the set even in these moments only takes away some of the tension from these scenes. And so it is simply thoroughly unpleasant to watch a film like “Trapped on the Net”. But that’s exactly how it should be.
Conclusion: A documentary experiment that later even became the inspiration for a USA variation that was once broadcast on prime time on private television: “Trapped on the Net” is always difficult to watch, but the precision of the experimental setup and the educational added value as well as the associated urgency of it make this film a painful must-see.
“Trapped on the Net” can be seen in USA cinemas from June 24th. An abridged version is available to schools upon request.