Growing number of children groomed to film own sexual abuse
By Haroon Siddique
May 14, 2018
|An IWF study found most images of live-streamed child sexual abuse were of young girls who had been groomed to film from their own home.|
Photo by Alamy Stock
Children are being coerced and blackmailed into live-streaming their own sexual abuse from their own homes, researchers have found.
The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), which carried out the study, says that large numbers of victims are white girls apparently from relatively affluent backgrounds, often streaming from their bedroom. Their profile contrasts markedly with that of typical offline abuse victims who are often homeless or poor, it points out.
In a three-month period last year, the charity identified 2,082 images and videos of live-streamed child sexual abuse. Of that number, 96% were girls and 98% were children aged 13 and under, with most (69%) assessed to be between 11 and 13. Almost three in 10 (28%) were aged under 10 and the youngest victim was just three years old.
The vast majority (96%) showed a child on their own in a home environment, leading the IWF to conclude they are being groomed, coerced and blackmailed into live-streaming their own sexual abuse over webcams, tablets and mobile phones.
Sarah Smith, IWF technical projects officer and author of the paper, said: “This new research shows a worrying new trend in the abuse of children. Permanent captures from live-streams showing children being groomed or encouraged to perform sexual acts now represent most of the new images and videos IWF see. Our recent data shows that so-called ‘self-produced’ content accounts for more than one in three of reports that are made to the IWF. This is an alarming figure.”
The Microsoft-funded report, published on Tuesday, found that 40% were classified as category A or B abuse (the most serious categories).
In some cases, children were being coerced into sexual activity in order to gain “likes” or comments from viewers, the researchers found.
In one instance detailed in the report, a child, who gave her age as 12 years old, referred to having 50 viewers to her broadcast stream. After repeatedly exposing herself to the webcam, she stated that she would halt the broadcast if people did not start commenting or liking the stream as there would be “no point” in her continuing.
In many cases it was not possible for the reporters to identify the likely location of the victims, but, where it was possible, they said the majority appeared to be outside the UK.
Three-quarters (73%) of content appeared on 16 dedicated forums, indicating it was being shared with the intention of advertising paid downloads of videos of webcam child sexual abuse.
The IWF said its report points to the need for greater awareness amongst educators, professionals and carers.
Susie Hargreaves, IWF chief executive, said: “This form of grooming is complicated and only possible because of the ‘anonymity’ the internet offers. An offender may be, for example, a 40-year-old man. But by abusing a legitimate internet site to create a false profile, he could appear online as a 12-year-old schoolgirl. Sadly, through this study we saw a range of grooming scenarios that abusers employ.
“We know that this information will be terrifying for most parents. That’s why we are trying to warn parents, carers and professionals working with children, about the potential abuse of live-streaming technology by offenders.”