Catching a new breed of criminal is a tricky business. Advocate Roo Powell looks half her age, a benefit when her job is catching online predators looking for underaged girls. But the 38-year-old mother of three is setting up a persona trap in Monsters and Critics exclusive preview of tomorrow’s episode of ID’s Undercover Underage.
In the preview, we are taken to the staging rooms of three “personas” of teenage girls, as their rooms are decorated with wardrobe, hair, and makeup to fool an online predator looking to spark a relationship with one of the underaged girls.
The organization—SOSA (Safe from Online Sex Abuse)—works with the local law enforcement agencies to target and identify those people looking to lure young kids into a myriad of illegal activities, including arranging meetups and situations that allow the criminals to kidnap and sell the kids into sex trafficking.
If you think this is overblown, think again as the US National Human Trafficking Hotline identified over 23,000 trafficking victims and survivors in one year alone.
What happens on Undercover Underage for ID?
The clip walks us through the staging of the three personas as Roo becomes a fifteen-year-old who is in her room. She says: “A persona is a decoy, a fictitious character in the house. We’ve set up three bedrooms belonging to three teenage persons.”
As they ready the actors and the decor, she adds: “We create a persona. It’s like we’re creating a person out of thin air.”
The team changes her hair color, eye color, and style the personas as teenagers, with a room that reflects authenticity.Watch the Latest on our YouTube Channel
Noting the ruse has to be seamless, Roo adds: “We have to create her community as well, so we’re creating a background a history where she goes to school. Does she take piano lessons? Authenticity is in [the] details. This girl’s not just a TikTok queen.”
The team concocts elaborate backstories and plays as emotionally fragile, with little to no adult supervision, including the decoy personas usually having a single working parent.
Explaining her fears and worries about the staging, Roo says: “I know I’m 38. In my head, am I going [to appear] aged out? [Or] maybe you can no longer pull off a high voice, or maybe you can no longer pull off nicotine, or maybe you’re out of touch with teens, and no one’s going to believe you. That is a little nerve-wracking.”
About the series for ID
Undercover Underage is a six-part true-crime series that began on February 3. Season 1 is available to binge at discovery+. The series follows Shelby Chikazawa; Matt Monath, Avalon Esposito; research lead Kelly Becker; and Sergeant Mark Suda, all of whom work with Roo to create separate personas of fictitious, underage girls.
These perpetrators exist worldwide, and they easily can slip under the radar or evade detection entirely, leaving vulnerable children wide open to abuse that lies just beyond their screens.
The series was created to show how some adults use the internet illegally to groom, sexually exploit, and abuse children online. The way they do this is through anonymous and with virtually untraceable technology and IP addresses.
Through her organization SOSA (Safe from Online Sex Abuse), Powell and her team collaborate with law enforcement to detect offenders who prey on unsuspecting kids as they create carefully crafted stories, social media profiles, and photos to help Roo transform into a teen online.
Once adults engage with Roo’s underage persona decoys, the team communicates with them via texts, calls, and video chats to gather pieces of information about their true identity.
Every adult that contacts a persona is told from the outset that they are speaking to an underage girl and are allowed to end the conversation. However, for those who choose to proceed with explicit exchanges with a supposed minor, the team mobilizes to name the offender.
Many operate under their own fake identity, making finding a true identification tricky and complicated. Once the team at SOSA has enough information for identification, they turn over their findings to law enforcement. With suspected predators ranging from school employees to high-profile community figures, it’s a race to get law enforcement the information they need to apprehend the perpetrator.
Undercover Underage follows them in real-time as they transform Roo, a 38-year-old mother of three, into a teen persona and work to reveal the true identities of the men who contact her. Powell is also an award-winning writer, child advocate, and founder of SOSA.
SOSA combats online sex abuse and exploitation in collaboration with and consultation from law enforcement. They identify pockets of the internet where offenders find victims and report information to various Internet Crimes Against Children task forces.
Undercover Underage airs weekly on Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on ID.