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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

The Internet Investigation Report

E.1: Introduction

1. Live streaming involves:

live child abuse anywhere across the world, and in some of these sites and some of these facilities it enables them to direct individuals who are abusing children to abuse them in a way to which they gain some form of satisfaction. They can do this from the comfort and apparent safety of their own home, they can do it across the internet and, on occasions, there can be people that are gaining money out of this, because there can be a money aspect, or it could be between individuals, like-minded individuals, who are doing this to support each other.”[1]

2. The National Crime Agency (NCA) considers live streaming “one of the emerging threats”.[2] The increased use of webcam and video-conferencing technology has led to an increased risk of child sexual abuse by live streaming. The instantaneous nature of the broadcast poses challenges for how law enforcement and industry detect such abuse.

3. The international nature of this offending is not uncommon. In 2015, the NCA investigated Mark Frost (also known as Andrew John Tracey), a UK national who raped and sexually assaulted a number of children in Thailand. His crime was uncovered when Dutch police arrested a Dutch national who was in possession of videos showing the Dutch national directing some of the abuse that Frost inflicted on his victims.[3] In another example, the NCA told us they had:

“very recently … prosecuted [an individual] using section 72 of the Sexual Offences Act. That individual incited abuse in the Philippines and in a range of other environments.”[4]

4. The commercial live streaming of abuse for payment, particularly from countries in Southeast Asia, is familiar to the Inquiry. In the Children Outside the UK investigation,[5] the Inquiry heard about ‘Lorna’. ‘Lorna’ lives in the Philippines and started doing online “shows” when she was seven years old. She was recruited by a neighbour to perform online sexual acts on a webcam for foreigners. She did shows three times a day and was paid six US dollars. She used the money to buy food. The Inquiry is also aware of a case where the perpetrator paid just 93 pence to watch a girl being sexually abused.[6]

5. According to Chief Constable Simon Bailey, the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) Lead for Child Protection and Abuse Investigations, the UK is “the third greatest consumer in the world of the live streaming of abuse”.[7] He told us that technology:

now allows somebody to go on and use their credit card to pay for and instruct the live-time sexual abuse rape of a child in the Philippines … So you will sit in front of a monitor, having paid maybe as little as £10 or £15, no more than that … You will then direct how that child is then sexually abused.[8]

6. Live streaming is also a problem facing children in England and Wales. We heard, for example, that during his abuse of IN-A1 and IN-A2, Anthony O’Connor was able to direct his victims into committing sexual acts, streaming it to him via Skype.

7. In 2018, the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), assisted by funding from Microsoft, published research[9] examining the distribution of captures of live streamed child sexual abuse.[10] The IWF in fact said that it was “uncommon[11] for the IWF to encounter images or videos captured by live streaming to feature Southeast Asian children. The IWF more frequently encountered images “involving white girls, apparently from relatively affluent Western backgrounds”.[12]

8. Over a three-month period between August and October 2017, the IWF examined 2,082 images and videos. Its findings included that:

  • 96 percent of the children depicted were on their own, typically in a home setting such as a bedroom or bathroom;[13]
  • 96 percent of the imagery depicted one or more girls;[14] and
  • 69 percent of the imagery depicted children assessed as aged 11 to 13 years old and 28 percent depicted children assessed as aged seven to 10 years old.[15]

9. Ms Susie Hargreaves OBE, Chief Executive of the IWF, told the Inquiry that in the first four months of 2019, there had been an increase in the amount of self-generated content:

now at 36 percent of all the content we actioned … we took action on 15,264 URLs of self-generated content … 81 per cent of those were children aged 11 to 13 and predominantly girls … 90 per cent girls. So we are extremely worried about girls, young girls, 11 to 13, in their bedroom with a camera-enabled device and an internet connection.[16]

10. The IWF’s research drew on Ofcom’s Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes Report 2017. Ofcom found that 53 percent of 12 to 15-year-olds who go online agreed with the statement ‘I can easily delete information that I have posted about myself online if I don’t want people to see it’.[17] However, the IWF’s research found that 100 percent of the imagery included in the study had been taken from its original upload location and distributed via third-party websites.

this finding suggests there is still a lack of awareness amongst children of the risks of live interactions via webcam and the potential for permanent records to be created and distributed outside of their control”.[18]

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