Live
online child sexual abuse has invited substantial international concern for a
number of reasons, such as the financial exploitation arising from
transnational offender-victim interactions (Virtual Global Taskforce, 2015).
This practice involves sexual activity with a child that is transmitted live
through online streaming services and viewed by others from a remote location.
This form of abuse may be commissioned by its viewers, who may dictate how the
acts should be carried out, and/or pay for the streamed sexual activities. Thus,
live online child sexual abuse can involve multiple forms of child sexual abuse
and exploitation, e.g. prostitution, sexual ‘performances’, and the production
of CSAM/CSEM (ECPAT Luxembourg/ECPAT International, 2016, p. 46). What is new
in this context is that contact sexual abuse can now be carried out remotely,
with perpetrators engaging in highly interactive, or personalised forms of
sexual abuse and exploitation.

The
presentation of live online child sexual abuse deserves particular
consideration in the context of policing and management efforts. This form of
online offending closely resembles a contact sexual offence; while the offender
in question may not physically touch the child, the streamed contact sexual
abuse of the child often occurs at the direction of the offender, thereby
blurring the distinction that could traditionally be drawn between contact
sexual offence and offences involving CSAM/CSEM. Moreover, live online child
sexual abuse may also create significant challenges for intervention,
particularly in the recovery of digital evidence, and effective identification
and management of victims in remote locations (Brennan, Merdian & Perkins,
2017). Unless, for example, an offender records the stream of the broadcast
abuse, live streaming may leave little trace on the offender’s device. From the
victim’s perspective, the forms of attendant abuse and exploitation are
manifold, and exacerbated, with abusers acting simultaneously in local and
remote locations at the time of their abuse. These victims are also vulnerable
to other serious human rights abuses. Indeed, a recent report by the United
Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (2017) has pointed to a shift in ‘child sex abuse
webcamFP1  centres’ from the Philippines to
Thailand, further to a series of operations by the Philippine authorities to
combat this problem. So great has been the rise in child trafficking for the
purposes of sexual exploitation in ‘child sex abuse webcamFP2  centres’, that the authors report
demand for children is outstripping supply in the Mekong region.

Live
online child sexual abuse offences can create challenges for accurate
classification and management of victims and offenders, both in research and
public protection efforts. Notably, in the latter context, the phenomenon of
live online child sexual abuse presents substantial challenges for victim
identification interventions, and creates a greater dependence on the quality
of joint victim identification law enforcement operations between the host
jurisdictions of offenders and victims.

 

1.1.1       
Child
Sexual Exploitation Material (CSEM) vs. Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM)

The
preponderance of research and intervention efforts to combat online child
sexual abuse and exploitation have concentrated on the issue of Child Sexual Abuse
Material (CSAM), as defined and proscribed in relevant international
legislatures1FP3 . Notwithstanding the apparent
problem of CSAM, which depicts obvious and explicit forms of child sexual abuse
and exploitation, some concern has been expressed in relation to less
egregious, sexualised depictions of children,  which fall within the category of Child Sexual
Exploitation Material (CSEM). CSEM depicts children in a sexualised manner or
context, yet it does not meet the threshold for legal proscription in many
countries. These materials have been variously described – as ‘Non-extreme
Child Exploitation Material’ (Watters, Lueg, Spiranovic & Prichard, 2013FP4 ), ‘Child Erotica’ and ‘Pedophile
Paraphernalia’ (Lanning, 1987, p. 19) or depictions in the ‘Grey Area’ (I-KiZ,
2015, p.9) – with a range of debates ongoing in relation to their role and
significance in the sexual abuse and exploitation of children.

These
debates have turned around a range of complex issues, including, for example,
the conflict between proponents of freedom of artistic and personal expression
versus those who argue that CSEM is intimately associated with the
sexualisation, sexual exploitation or abuse of children. Relatedly, a tension
exists in debates between the need to protect the sexual agency of children, or
more specifically, their right to a normal cycle of sexual development in
adolescence, and the need to protect children from early, and other harmful
forms of sexualisation, particularly as mediated through ICT. There is a risk
that the free availability of this material may promote a culture which
normalises the sexualisation of children, thereby putting other children at
risk of harm. Although often legal, CSEM may (re)traumatise victims, compromise
children’s human dignity and expose victims to harassment or further
exploitation and abuse, particularly in situations where it is
‘self-generated’. At the same time, there is a danger that such content further
promotes the sexualisation of children, encourages more sexual exploitation or
abuse of children, and creates more demand for such (I-KiZ, 2015). By way of
illustration, Save the Children Europe (2005) reported that images recovered
online evidenced the contention that a proportion of the children exploited in
CSEM available on ‘child erotica’ or ‘modelling’ sites had also been sexually abused in the production of illegal CSAMFP5 . Furthermore, it
is worth noting anecdotally that many series of illegal CSAM also contain CSEM,
and vice versa. This presents a challenge to law enforcement because the
presence of CSEM depicting a child that may not be illegal according to the
laws in the relevant country does not necessarily imply that there has been no
abuse of that child, or that there is no associated CSAM depicting that child.   

Notwithstanding
these debates, little is formally known of the characteristics and experiences
of children depicted in this broad category of CSEM, particularly from an
empirical perspective. The risks recounted above are grave, and underscore the
requirement to improve our understanding of the relationship of often legal
forms of CSEM to more explicit and illegal depictions of child sexual abuse and
exploitation. Such understanding would, inter
alia, inform current debates concerning the legitimacy of such materials,
and whether or how this imagery should be managed and regulated in the
collective international effort to combat the sexual abuse and exploitation of
children. More specifically, in the context of victim-centric intervention,
such knowledge would enable international law enforcement and other
professional groups to target interventions towards problematic categories of
CSEM.

 

‘Youth-Produced Sexual Imagery’

‘Youth produced sexual imagery’ can broadly be divided into two
main categories: sexual materials depicting children which are truly
self-produced by the depicted child/ren and materials which are produced and/or
shared online through, for example, criminal enticement by a third party.
Without evidence or a report of criminal enticement by the victim or other
person, it can be challenging for law enforcement to reliably distinguish
between these two categories of imagery (NCMEC,
2017 a or b?. BM6 

Significant
concern has been expressed about the abusive and exploitative potential of
‘youth produced sexual imagery’ and wider sexting practices for children and
young people (e.g. College of Policing, 2016, p.2). These concerns have become
all the more acute in the face of recent empirical evidence which suggests that
sexual materials produced by children have become firmly embedded in the larger
corpus of CSAM/CSEM in circulation (Quayle, Svedin & Jonsson, 2017).

Sexting
may be broadly understood as the exchange of sexually explicit material via ICT
(Yeung, Horyniak, Vella, Hellard, & Lim, 2014), typically encompassing
picture, video and textual content. While most research and public discourse on
this phenomenon has addressed the problematic aspects of children’s sexting
behaviours, sexting behaviour can function as a form of flirting and adolescent
experimentation, and to enhance a sexual relationship (Cooper, Quayle, Jonsson,
& Svedin, 2016). Notwithstanding, substantial concerns have been expressed
around the permanence of the imagery that is produced in the context of sexting
activities and its potential to lead to long-lasting and harmful consequences
for children and young people (e.g. Houck et al., 2014; Lunceford, 2011).
Particular focus has been given to legally problematic materials produced in
the course of sexting exchanges, which have been described as ‘Youth-produced
Sexual Images’, or ‘pictures created by minors (age 17 or younger) that depict
minors, and that are or could be, child pornography under applicable criminal
statutes’ (Wolak & Finkelhor, 2011, p. 2).

Law
enforcement, education, and social care professionals work with children whose
formative sexual experiences are based upon such imagery (Phippen, 2017).
Problematically, many children perceive little wrong with the redistribution of
sexually explicit images of their peers, or pressuring another child to
producing and sharing a sexual image of themselves (Phippen & Kennedy,
2017; Phippen & Brennan, 2016). At country level, schools in the United
Kingdom have reported increasing experiences of cases featuring prepubescent
children involved in the production or exchange of ‘youth-produced’ sexual
imagery (Phippen, 2018). Here, the concern is not only the production and
dissemination of ‘youth-produced’ sexual imagery at increasingly young ages, but
the associated problems of sexual abuse and exploitation of younger-age
children that can result from this behaviour.

The
longer-term implications of this scenario are unclear, but can be linked to
increasing criminal justice system engagement with children and young people as
‘perpetrators’ of CSAM/CSEM-related offences. A recent Freedom of Information
request to the UK’s Ministry of Justice by Phippen and Brennan (2016)
demonstrated a year-on-year increase (2010-2015) in the number of prosecutions
of 18-24 year olds under section 1 of the UK’s Protection of Children Act 1978FP7 . Indeed, a general increase in such
offences was observed across this 5-year period where the perpetrator was a
minor (Phippen, Brennan, Agate & Leward, 2018 forthcoming). This data
indicates an increasing number of youth CSAM/CSEM users becoming engaged with
law enforcement and the criminal justice system. Here the need for accurate
classification and victim identification is particularly acute, given the
complexity of some case presentations involving minors, where the distinction
between victim and perpetrator is difficult to make. This cohort is at
particular risk of falling through the cracks of victim identification,
particularly where child subjects of ‘self-generated’ CSAM/CSEM are classified
as perpetrators rather than victims. The victim-blaming attitudes towards those
featured in exploited ‘self-generated’ materials that prevail amongst young
people, responses that emphasise the illegality of “sexting” practices with
frequent recourse to prosecutionFP8 , and attendant reluctanceFP9  towards victims to report, act as
major barriers to victim identification and assistance in these cases (Brennan
& Phippen, forthcomingFP10 ).

One
obvious consequence of the variable presentations of sexting behaviours, is
that the cases that come to the attention of law enforcement are highly varied
in presentation and comprise a cross-section of cases, ranging from those which
feature comparatively benign activities (e.g. where sexual materials are
produced and shared in the context of a romantic adolescent relationship), to
cases where explicit criminal harm features (e.g. where a child is coerced into
producing the material). Therefore, the central challenge that presents is to
reliably distinguish sexting behaviours and engagements with youth-produced
imagery where some form of criminal harm is apparent, and where there is a
public interest in sanctioning and managing the perpetrators.

Outside
of cases of illegal adult involvement, there may be a public interest in
criminal sanctions in proportion/relation? to peer-perpetrated sexting cases,
e.g. where the case features coercion and other exploitative dimensions, or the
exploitation and abuse of prepubertal children. Indeed, the online sexual
extortion of children has emerged as a substantial challenge in these
investigations. Online sexual extortion activities targeting children occur at
the intersection of a number of criminal behaviours, including financial extortion,
sexual grooming and online solicitation, and may bear the characteristics of
one or all of these offences. This apparent overlap can give rise to conceptual
confusion regarding the nature of online child sexual extortion, the criminal
offences that may be implicated in this activity, and present challenges to
reporting, victim identification, and other management interventions (Brennan,
Merdian & Perkins, 2017). For example, a recent US survey of youth
implicated in cases of sexual coercion and extortion determined that only 13%
of victims reported their case to law enforcement (Wolak, Finkelhor, Walsh
& Treitman, 2018FP11 ).

1

 FP1can’t find actual quote in report, but based on the Luxembourg
guidelines, it appears more appropriate to add the term ‘abuse’ after ‘child
sex’

 FP2same as above

 FP3The reference is missing here

 FP4Page should be added here

 FP5Page reference should also be included here.

XXX

 BM6Hi Amy, can you please root out the NCMEC report referred to here –
I can format the reference. I know it was one we discussed when I reviewed this
sentence you added to this section and I think it was one discussed with Jen in
our call last month but I cant find the reference to the report in my records.

 FP7Need page reference here as we are stating facts/numbers.

XXX

 FP8Sentence needs rephrasing… 
Maybe:

 

“The victim-blaming attitudes towards
those featured in exploited ‘self-generated’ materials that prevail amongst
young people, and the reluctance to encourage victims to report, act as major
barriers to victim identification and assistance (in these cases). The responses
to victims, or lack thereof, emphasise the illegality of “sexting” practices (and
the frequent recourse to prosecution? (…meaning not entirely clear) (Brennan
& Phippen, date))

 

 FP9Expression not very clear… are we talking about a reluctance to
attend to victims?

 FP10…need an actual date though to be considered legit

 FP11Page number needed.