"Cappers": The Horrifying Creeps Who Trick Underage Girls to Strip Online
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I picked up the phone and dialed the number for the local field office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. “I’ve found what I think is child porn,” I told the operator, my voice shaking.
I was researching a popular “jailbait” message board this week when I discovered a thread filled with webcam screengrabs and videos of what looked to be pubescent girls in various states of undress and sexual activity. I’ve come across “barely legal” porn before, but this was different: These girls looked like they weren’t a day over 13. The intimate webcam context lent an additional believability to it: It was easy to imagine someone convincing each of these seemingly underage girls via video chat to take off their clothes, all the while recording the action to later distribute far and wide or even to use as a bribe to get future “shows” out of them.
That is what so-called “cappers” do — and they are what brought me to the jailbait message board in the first place, and ultimately to the FBI. They screen-capture live webcam chats — which can involve anywhere from two to several hundred people — while pressuring girls and young women to strip down. It starts with “show your stomach!” and quickly progresses from there like an online game of Truth or Dare. Sometimes all they get is a quick bra flash; other times they get a full-on “bate” (when a girl masturbates on camera). In the capper community, the latter would be called a “win.”
To be sure, some of the stars of these “caps” are simply of-age exhibitionists, but the most in-demand videos are of unsuspecting minors — those like Amanda Todd. The 15-year-old committed suicide last week after enduring years of bullying, online and off. In a YouTube video that has since gone viral, she shares the story of how years ago, while still in middle school, she went on webcam chats with her friends. She was met with flattery and attention and was asked to flash, and she did. A man screen-capped her big reveal and then used the image to bribe her to “put on a show.” When she refused, he sent the photo to her family and friends. On note cards held up to the camera, she explained: “I then got really sick and got anxiety, major depression and panic disorder.” The nine-minute clip goes on to explain how the bribery and harassment led to bullying at school, as well as multiple suicide attempts.
Last weekend, the hacktivist group Anonymous revealed the name of an alleged capper it claims is behind the harassment of Todd. Officials have denied the connection. However, the larger capping community’s link to Todd is undeniable: She was mentioned in at least two episodes in 2010 of The Daily Capper, a video roundup of community news that includes announcements of new “cam whores” and celebrations of recent capper “wins.” In one of the videos, a cartoon newscaster with a computerized voice says, “a mysterious BlogTV girl named Amanda is said to flash her tits randomly at low view counts,” and the middle schooler’s screen name is given out. In another, Todd’s image is shown on screen as the newscaster reports that she’s being banned from BlogTV.
The Daily Capper also “hands out awards — visualized as a golden webcam — to members of the community who cause the most harm to their victims, elicit the greatest amount of lulz, and are the most successful at blackmailing,” reports VICE. One such video details Maxson’s alleged blackmailing of a 14-year-old BlogTV user known as “Peyton.” As she explains in a video: