15 May 2018
By Rebecca Avery

IWF publish research on child sex abuse via live-streaming - implications and links for schools

A new study by the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) has revealed 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 in 2017 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.

The IWF study (supported by WeProtect briefing paper 2017) highlighted three different functions of live-streaming services in relation to online child sexual exploitation; grooming of victims on social media; rebroadcasting of offender collections; and commercial sexual exploitation live-streamed to remote buyers

Key findings:

  • Large numbers of victims identified in the IWF study were girls, apparently from relatively affluent backgrounds, often streaming from their bedroom. This profile contrasts markedly with that of typical ‘offline’ abuse victims.
    • The majority of children in the study were aged between seven to 13; the youngest was assessed as being three years old.
    • 96% of victims were girls.
    • 96% showed a child on their own, in a home environment.
      • In one case, the victim at intervals turned her attention from the webcam to engage in routine conversation with a parent who was outside the room.
    • In many instances, the children depicted in the imagery took no steps to conceal their identity or location, even in some cases using their real names.
    • Of the live-streamed content, 4% was captured from mobile-only streaming apps.
  • 40% of the abuse was categorised as Category A or B, which indicates serious sexual abuse.
    • 18% of the abuse was categorised as Category A, which includes the rape and sexual torture of children.
  • 100% of images had been harvested from their original upload locations 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.

In some cases, the study found that children were being coerced into sexual activity in order to gain “likes” or comments from viewers. The report highlighted a case study where 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 she would halt the broadcast if people did not start commenting or liking the stream as there would be “no point” in her continuing.

The implications of this for educational settings is that there is a clear need to raise awareness with children and young people (primary as well as secondary) regarding the risks of live streaming. Children and young people need guidance regarding live interactions via webcam and need to be aware of the potential for permanent records of images and videos to be created and distributed outside of their control. Parents/carers also need increased awareness of how to support their child's internet sue within the home, especially devices which have webcams built in such as tablets and smartphones.

Schools may wish to consider how this is address within their current curriculum and also how awareness can be raised with parents/carers, for example via sharing regular online safety information via school newsletters and social media platform.

Resources which could support schools and settings to achieve this could include:

Additional curriculum resources and links for parents/carers can be found on Kelsi.