Live-streaming of Child Sexual Abuse/Exploitation


Technological expansion, growing Internet coverage & speed and the widespread availability of mobile devices are increasingly digitalising our society. Criminals that sexually exploit children online are becoming more entrepreneurial with these technological developments and are using live video streaming for sexual abuse and exploitation of children.

A new study by the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) has revealed shocking statistics on children being groomed, coerced and blackmailed into live-streaming their own sexual abuse over webcams, tablets and mobile phones.

The research, Online Child Sexual Exploitation: Examining the Distribution of Captures of Live-streamed Child Sexual Abuse was conducted over a three-month period and identified 2,082 images and videos of live-streamed child sexual abuse. It revealed that 98% of images found were of children aged 13 and under, 28% were aged 10 or under, while the youngest victim was just three-years-old.

Top lines from the study found:

  • 96% of victims were girls.

  • 96% showed a child on their own, in a home environment.

  • 18% of the abuse was categorised as Category A, which includes the rape and sexual torture of children.

  • 40% of the abuse was categorised as Category A or B, which indicates serious sexual abuse.

  • 100% of images had been harvested from their original upload locations.

Shockingly, 100% of the imagery had been harvested from the original upload location and had been redistributed on third party websites, with 73% of content appearing on 16 dedicated forums. This indicates the abusive imagery was being shared with the intention of advertising paid downloads of videos of webcam child sexual abuse.

Sadly, a huge 40% of this illegal imagery was confirmed as Category A or B, 18% being Category A which involves what IWF classifies as the rape and sexual torture of children. The remainder was classed as Category C.

Of the live-streamed content, 4% was captured from mobile-only streaming apps.

The Internet Watch Foundation, which conducted the research (over a three-month period from August to October 2017) with funding support from Microsoft, is calling for greater awareness of online child sexual abuse using live-streaming apps. The organisation wants to encourage parents, carers and professionals working with youngsters to be aware of children’s technology use and the dangers posed to them by offenders.

The study suggests that any legitimate internet platform could be abused by offenders intent on contacting children. This makes any platform offering live-streaming a potential target for offenders. Because of this, the IWF is warning parents that this can happen to any child who has access to live-streaming technology. All parents and carers need to be vigilant and know the technology your children are using.

In the last six months, IWF data has found that a little over a third (38%) of reports to the organisation on child sexual abuse online were now what we term ‘self-produced’. This term refers to a scenario where the child is alone, or with other children and is persuaded or ‘groomed’ into taking images or videos of child sexual abuse and then share them, often with someone they trust. The IWF is now warning the public about the danger of allowing children unrestricted and unsupervised access to webcams and mobile phone cameras, as a serious threat to children.


By Angus Crawford, BBC News correspondent

For many parents the world of live streaming apps is a bewildering one. Every month new ones emerge, to become the latest "must do".

At their most basic they allow young people to broadcast live to the world from anywhere - classroom, playground or bedroom. Some only let a limited number of people see the broadcaster, others are open to anyone using the app - and that includes predators.

It's easy to see why children like the apps. It's immediate, it seems like fun and many idolise the vloggers and Youtubers doing the same thing. The more viewers or "likes" the greater the affirmation for the child.

And for tech companies? Video engages people for longer than anything else online and advertisers love that. The more video a platform can boast, the more advertisers it can attract.

The growth of live streaming apps poses a stark question for the tech industry, one underlined by the NCA campaign - when you create an app that allows children to broadcast live to the world and allows the world to talk back - is it really possible to keep them safe?