Recent news is alerting parents and carers to the vastly increasing presence of online child sex abuse. The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) is now regarding the greatest threat to children online is self-generated content, where perpetrators groom and coerce children into creating images and videos of themselves. The offender is then recording the content and keeping it for their own gratification or sharing it on the web with other users.
Over the last two years the IWF says there has been an explosion of these crimes with a 374% increase of those reported. The aim of this blog is to explain to what extent an adult is culpable for images and videos which are self produced by children and those which are live streamed by a child.
The rise in online offending has certainly partly been as a result of lockdown, when so many more people turned to the internet and social media to interact with others. Tik Tok became a sensation during lockdown and it through such social media platforms children are self generating content and sharing it with a world wide platform. The police are still investigating a staggering amount of online offences and working their way through forensic examinations of devices.
At PCD Solicitors we are often approached with enquiries from people who are concerned that they have received content without requesting it, or accidentally viewed content readily available on main stream websites but as a result of accidental viewings find themselves under investigation by police. Our clients often first approach us not knowing what is going on due to the length of time the investigations into this type of offence takes, we hope to bring clarity to those under investigation and expert legal advice on the law and investigative process.
What is a self produced image?
A self produced image or video is one taken by the child themselves. There needn't be any adult involvement in the image nor does there have to be any requirement for the child to be instructed to take the image or record the view by an adult.
Is the image indecent?
Whether an image is regarded as indecent in law is an objective test and in would be an issue for a jury to determine with the appropriate guidance from a judge.
Live streaming of a child
Once an image or view has been viewed, there is no forensic trace left on a users device used to view that image or video. However, it would be suggested by the police or Crown Prosecuting Service that the user has 'made' an image/video by causing it to be displayed on their device. We often see this offence occurring from the following conduct:
Sexual material concerning children and paying to watch this usually involves an organised network. The abuse takes place abroad and is streamed by offenders in the UK. The abuse of the children is often carried out for financial gain and is usually streamed by those in developing countries.
Offenders can often join specific chat rooms designed for the online viewing of sexual abuse of children. A person can be invited to a group or can search them out. Where a person is invited into a group they may be caught off guard and not have known what they were entering into. This could be a potential defence and something to be discussed with a specialist solicitor.
Self-produced by children
This form of offending is becoming more prevalent and is what the internet watch foundation are really wanting to raise awareness of. It is suggested that children are exploited online who share images of themselves between their peers to gain "likes". An offender will then contact the children and begin to abuse them or distribute the self produced content, in doing this there are a variety of sexual offences which could be alleged to have been committed such as:
- Making indecent images of children
- Sexual communications with a child
- Publishing or distributing indecent images of children
- Causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity
- Arranging/facilitating a child sex offence.
Where evidence arises that a person is viewing live-streamed serious sexual abuse the police and the Crown Prosecuting Service can consider offences under the Serious Crime Act 2007, such as; doing an act intentionally encouraging or assisting an offence (section 44 Serious Crime Act 2007), or doing and act capable of encouraging or assisting an offence, believing that such an offence would take place, and that this act would encourage or assist it (section 45 Serious Crime Act 2007).
The consequence of being convicted of any of the above offences could lead to a term of imprisonment.
Common defences to offences concerning indecent images are:
- Legitimate reason
- Lack of awareness
- Marriage and other relationships
Each defence must carefully be considered in light of the circumstances of each individual case.
If you, a friend or family member are in a position where the police have become involved due to the content viewed online, get in touch with one of our specialist lawyers to discuss whether a criminal offence as potentially committed, what your options are and what defences may be available to you.