Live-streaming is on the increase
In our series of NetClean Reports we look at technology that is used to generate and consume child sexual abuse material, and in the last edition (2019) we looked at live-streaming in particular. The data presented in the report shows that live-streamed child sexual abuse is on the rise.
Voluntarily and induced (either as a result of grooming or sexual extortion) self-produced live-streamed material is the type of material that occurs most commonly in investigations. However, law enforcement work hard to monitor and stop so called distant live-streamed material; webcam shows where an adult is either physically involved in the abuse, or coercing or forcing the child into conducting sexual acts.
Head of Unit and Detective Inspector Cathrine Hagström Hägg at the Unit for International Sexual Exploitation of Children, Swedish Cybercrime Centre, National Operative Department, works exclusively with distant live-streaming cases. Here she comments on the findings in the NetClean Report 2019, and explains the work that they do.
By Cathrine Hagström Hägg, Head of Unit and Detective Inspector at the Unit for International Sexual Exploitation of Children, Swedish Cybercrime Centre, National Operative Department
Digital development has enabled offenders to produce and share child sexual abuse material at a previously impossible scale. In addition, the last decade’s development of social media platforms and gaming platforms has enabled offenders to reach children directly, and abuse them over the internet without meeting them in person, adding a new dimension to this crime. Live-streaming services, examined closer in this report, has pushed this development further.
My unit works exclusively with international sexual exploitation of children, so I can only comment on distant live-streamed child sexual abuse, and not on the other types of live-streaming mentioned in the report.
We saw our first case of live-streaming in 2010. This type of crime is on the increase, still, we have only handled approximately forty cases so far.
We only investigate Swedish offenders, however countries that are often mentioned in the context of offenders are the US, the UK, France, Germany and Australia – large Western countries with, in general, well-to-do populations.
The victims come primarily from the Philippines, but we have also seen indications of victims coming from Colombia, South Africa and Romania. Our biggest case to date featured a Swedish man who subjected twenty-five children in the US to sexual abuse online through live-streaming. In this case the children were groomed and threatened by the offender himself.
Cases from the Philippines always involve adults who facilitate the abuse. Contact often starts on Philippine dating sites for adults, from where the conversation moves to private channels, primarily Skype, but also Messenger and WhatsApp, where the conversation moves on to children. These are also the channels where the abuse takes place.
There are several reasons why this crime is especially prevalent in the Philippines. It is a poor country, and one where the population communicates well in English, making international communication easy. There is a well-established sex-industry, limited police resources, a developed IT-infrastructure, cheap mobile phones, and simple ways of making international money transactions. The big difference between the Philippines and other South East Asian countries is probably the common use of the English language.
“In all our cases, offenders have been in possession of other types of child sexual abuse material.”
Other types of child sexual abuse material
In all our cases, offenders have been in possession of other types of child sexual abuse material. However, except for the US case, we have not found evidence that they have themselves groomed or threatened children. Only in one case have we found images of hands-on abuse by the offender himself.
Our sample is too small to draw any conclusions, but the question that this type of crime raises is if distant live-streamed abuse is a substitute for sex tourism. According to colleagues in other countries this does not seem to be the case. Consumption of live streamed child sexual abuse rather seems to further the addiction and fuel a desire to travel to participate in hands-on abuse.
A lot of investigative challenges
This type of crime presents a long list of challenges. The biggest challenge is to detect the offence and the offenders in the first place. It is difficult to establish whether payment for a show has been for an adult sex show or for abuse of children.
Working across borders is difficult – people are not registered in the same way everywhere, and in order to interview a child one needs to make a request for international assistance, which can be a lengthy procedure. It can also be difficult to get information from platform providers in other countries. There is also the fact that these types of cases contain enormous amounts of material made up of lists of calls, chat logs, screenshots and evidence of payment, which all need to be investigated and matched.