Three actresses, three children’s rooms, 10 days and 2,458 sexual predators. Documentary film, Caught In The Net approaches the abuse of children on the internet with an intricately calculated hoax. The result is terrifying and intense to watch, but what about the emotional and psychological impact on the cast and crew?
The idea for the film began in autumn 2017, when media company O2 contacted director Vít Klusák with a request to make a viral video that would highlight in a dramatic manner the sharp rise in the number of children being abused on the Czech internet. Klusák brought his colleague Barbora Chalupová on board the project and together they undertook research in the form of a test, creating an authentic-looking fake profile of a 12-year-old girl, Týnka, and waiting to see what happened. Within five hours of the profile going live 83 men aged between 23 and 63 contacted the girl, the overwhelming majority with explicit propositions. It soon became clear to the pair that a short viral video was not enough to bring attention to the scale of the online abuse they’d witnessed.
“We faced a challenge as to how to document a phenomenon that takes place behind the doors of children’s rooms,” Chalupová explains. “We wanted to show as accurately as possible all the tricks and manipulation that predators employ in their communication with kids. We believe that if we’d shot the film as, for instance, a collection of interviews or as reportage, nobody would be able to imagine all the stuff that children go through today.
“The only thing that never ceased to surprise me throughout filming was the speed with which the predators contacted our girls. After a few opening lines they immediately moved on to explicitly sexual propositions. Frankly, there’s some stuff I never need to see again in my life.”
During filming, the three actresses, Tereza Těžká, Anezka Pithartová, and Sabina Dlouhá were subject to harrowing exploitation from predators online.
“It was the toughest work I’ve ever done in my life,” says Tereza. “Every time I thought it couldn’t get worse the next day something happened to show me I was wrong.
“I hadn’t a clue how big the problem of child abuse on the internet was. I think it’s the same for most people. I encountered it myself when I was 12 and thought I was the exception, that the internet was more protected nowadays. But the opposite is true”.
The actresses’ dedication to the project has created an urgent and necessary documentary, which without them would have allowed for the sinister harm against children to stay quietly buried and in the dark. And despite the challenging nature of the work, none regret their decisions to sign up for the film.
“I wouldn’t like to experience it again. But I definitely wouldn’t change my decision at the casting session,” says Anežka. “I get that for some people it’s going too far, but I’d be sorry if they missed out on the film out of fear. If you want to tackle evil, you have to get to know it first.”
The film makers have created two versions of the documentary Caught in the Net, rated 15 (100 min.); and Caught in the Net: School’s Out, rated 12 (63 min), an educational campaign that travelled across the Czech Republic to schools to highlight the danger and discuss how it can be avoided.
“We regard it as important that school children, who the film is chiefly about, can see it”, director Vít Klusák explains. “It’s a selection of dramatic scenes from the big film supplemented by appearances by our actresses in which Tereza, Sabina and Anežka give younger viewers advice on what to do in such highly charged situations and who to turn to.
“I’d like the film to set off a discussion throughout society that would result in positive ideas on how to protect children in the online sphere, not just from abusers but also from themselves.”
Caught In The Net is available on Digital Download from 7 February 2022.