Photo: Courtesy of NBC Bay Area.
Ethan, a 20-year-old college student, posed as a 16-year-old girl named Esther using Snapchat’s popular new “gender swap” filter, and caught Robert Davies, 40, in trying to solicit “Esther” for a hookup, according to NBC Bay Area. Davies, a San Mateo, CA, police officer, was arrested for contacting a minor to commit a felony, per the San Jose Police Department. But because Ethan/Esther is Asian, there is another layer to the story — one that shows how frequently Asian women are exploited and fetishized.
Ethan, who prefers to go by his first name in fear of retaliation, took advantage of these stereotypes by using his own youthful appearance and the ultra-feminization of the Snapchat filter in order to expose someone who might fetishize these features. “I believe he messaged me, ‘Are you down to have some fun tonight?’ and I decided to take advantage of it,” Ethan told NBC Bay Area, explaining that he first created a Tinder profile for Esther, through which Davies began messaging her.
Esther and Davies moved their conversation over to the app Kik, where Esther told him she is 16 (Ethan knew that the dating app does not allow underage users), and asked the cop if he was okay with it. Davies said yes, despite the fact that the age of consent in California is 18. Then, their conversation grew more explicit. After messaging back and forth for about 12 hours on Kik and Snapchat, Ethan collected the evidence and sent it to Crime Stoppers on May 11, according to a police statement.
This isn’t the first time internet vigilantes have used the likeness of an Asian girl to “catch a predator.” A predecessor to Ethan’s small sting operation, “Sweetie,” a virtual 10-year-old Filipina girl, was used to trap over 1,000 alleged pedophiles internationally in 2013. Terre des Hommes, an international children’s rights charity organization, created the computer model and carried out the international sting operation. During the span of 10 weeks, it obtained the IP addresses and information of 1,000 suspected pedophiles from 65 countries, all of whom connected online with the artificial girl, including 254 Americans.
While Ethan only exposed one man, he used a similar strategy of digital technology and the image of a young girl to entrap predators. For his part, he said he was motivated to create the online profile because he has a female friend who is a survivor of child molestation. “I was just looking to get someone, he just happened to be a cop,” he said. What he ended up doing was much larger than “getting someone”: He used the fetishization of Asian women and girls as a way to take down the fetishizer.