AMSTERDAM—Her name was Amanda Todd. She was 15 years old, and she became a tragic symbol of what has come to be called sextortion. Persuaded on a live chat to flash her breasts, she then was told that all her social media friends and email contacts would see the images if she did not cooperate on video and go much further. She refused and her “friends” were sent a link to the image on a porn site. Soon she was bullied mercilessly until, finally, she made her own compelling video about her ordeal that went viral on YouTube. Since it was posted in 2012 it has been viewed more than 20 million times.
But for Amanda the world’s sympathy came too late. Her internet plea for understanding was the last act of a desperate girl exhausted after what seemed to her an eternity of blackmail and harassment. On Oct. 10, 2012, only weeks after Amanda posted her plaintive appeal, she took her own life at her home in Canada.
International investigators eventually tracked the alleged origins of Amanda’s suffering to one man: Aydin Coban, a 38-year-old Dutch national arrested in January 2014 who is now on trial in Amsterdam. And what the case against Coban has shown is that Amanda Todd in faraway British Columbia was only one of many children in many countries victimized by what the Dutch describe as this “webcampedo”—this webcam pedophile. Although the Dutch press is constrained to identify Coban only by his first name and last initial, his full name has been published extensively in Canada.
Coban’s alleged sextortionist schemes involved at least 34 young girls, and five grown men as well. His youngest victim is said to have been 11 years old. He pretended to be a young woman or a young man when he chatted with young girls, and a young man when he contacted the older men: homosexuals he threatened to out if they didn’t pay up. He was unfazed when a girl said she would kill herself if he posted pictures of her; unperturbed when girls said they were only 13.
Despite the publicity that surrounded Amanda Todd’s suicide, it took two years before Coban was found and arrested, and the initial break in the case actually came before her death.
In 2012, at the same time Coban was allegedly targeting Amanda, he also was pursuing a Norwegian girl who decided to approach the police about it. They tracked his IP addresses to the Netherlands. The Norwegian police contacted the Dutch police and the predator’s IP address was then traced to the trailer park in Oisterwijk where Aydin Coban lived. But that did not lead to his arrest. It took Todd’s suicide and a report compiled by Facebook in its wake to jolt the Dutch police into further action. In Facebook's own investigation a relationship was established between a phone number, an IP address and 86 accounts in which it appeared aliases were being used to target young girls. That information then led Dutch police to Coban’s home, where they installed spyware on both of his computers.
In all, Coban has been indicted for 72 alleged offenses related to sexual exploitation and extortion over the internet. At his place, police found a trove of more than 204,000 photos and videos on a partially encrypted hard drive, many of them involving child pornography. The Dutch police also found a drive with 5,800 bookmarked names that served as a database of potential victims and their social networks.
Much of the evidence presented in court has come from the spyware that allowed police to collect every keystroke and multiple screenshots from Coban’s computers.
“Put something sexy on now, and guide cam, totally naked, masturbating, if you don’t do it, I can start posting your video on porn sites,” Coban would tell his victims, according to the key-logged transcripts presented at the trial.
The defense team claims this software was installed illegally and has asked for the charges against Coban to be dropped entirely. Coban has protested his innocence and refused to submit to a psychiatric evaluation. But the prosecution does not appear worried.
“The Public Prosecutor stands by the fact that the evidence was gathered completely according to the law and can be used,” spokesperson Wim de Bruin told The Daily Beast. “We would not be asking for a jail sentence of 10 years and eight months if we did not think we had a strong case.”
The monitored threats are chilling. “You have been naked on the webcam for me before. If you don’t go on the webcam for me, I will post this on an internet site. You don’t want your family to get these pictures, do you?”
During his blackmailing sessions, Coban was hiding behind several aliases: Kelsey Rain, Tyler Boo, Mel Rain, Kody or Mark Camerons. With his multiple Facebook accounts he built a worldwide network of victims. Some live in the United States and Canada, others in the United Kingdom, Norway, and the Netherlands.
“I have all the addresses of your classmates, friends and your parents. You will give me 3 shows of 15 minutes, or I will send them the photo. You have until the end of the day or all hell will break loose,” Coban allegedly told Amanda Todd after persuading her to do nothing more than lift her T-shirt.
That was when she refused. That was when her photo was posted on a porn site and the link sent to all her contacts. What she most feared had happened.
Her mother, Carol Todd, is attending the trial in Amsterdam. “We came all this way and we are not afraid of him,” she told Dutch television. “Knowing that I will see him, face to face is hard but we will get through it.”
Coban, whose mother was Turkish, was born in the Netherlands and raised in the southern province of Brabant. Coban quit school at 17 when his father died and started supporting his family working in greenhouses. He is unmarried and has no children. Regional broadcaster Omroep Brabant interviewed two close friends and reported them saying Coban was interested in philosophy, especially Plato, and said he didn’t need relationships or sex. He loved nature, played the guitar, and did some occasional busking, his friends said. Eventually he worked repairing computers and installing software, a trade that would come in handy as an internet prowler.
Carol Todd said that after Amanda’s picture was posted by Coban the girl was bullied relentlessly. “They called her names: slut, camwhore, pornstar, people were brutal, they wouldn’t let her forget.” And even when she changed schools the predator kept after her. “You know that I will go on until you give me three shows,” he said. “Even if you go to a new school and you have new friends, it doesn’t matter, I will always be there.”
It is every parent’s worst nightmare: a young boy or girl is groomed and seduced in cyberspace. It used to be the hazards of urban nightlife that a parent feared most, but the predators have found their way through the internet into a child’s bedroom. The pattern is now grimly familiar: a young insecure girl falls for the charms of a grown man pretending to be a boy or girl her own age. To them it seems a harmless enough flirtation—or maybe a slightly daring game. After a while and much gentle persuasion, a girl finally agrees to take her top off… in front of the webcam. To her it is a very private moment, but the screenshot the predator grabs is where his power over her really begins.
The verdict in the case is due on March 16. Then Coban will face extradition to Canada, which already has been approved, and there he will face justice again, specifically, for what he did to Amanda Todd.
She was brutalized by one person who “started a landslide of other people traumatizing her,” said Amanda’s mother. “He hurt her, he damaged her soul, and he blew out her spark.”