A snapshot study
We’ve documented a rise in “self-generated” child sexual abuse imagery being created and shared online. We are now seeing how siblings are being encouraged to take part together.
Over three months between 28 September and 23 December we logged incidents of this.
Self-generated child sexual abuse imagery can often involve more than one child and it’s not easy to say with certainty whether the children are related.
During this study, our analysts flagged any illegal content that they assessed as likely to involve siblings. Then, our Quality Assurance team scrutinised that material to make an informed judgement as to whether the children could be related.
This decision was based on a variety of factors such as:
- The similarity of their appearance.
- Their environment.
- Their behaviour towards each other, and, where observed.
- Their conversation and the kind of language they used.
If we could not say that it was highly probable that they were related, the content was discounted.
- 511 self-generated child sexual abuse images and videos were determined to involve siblings.
- That’s 8 images or videos each working day.
- In 65% of cases, one or both children engaged in direct sexual contact with the other.
Six sets of videos appeared more regularly than others: These were seen at least 10 times each, and one set was seen 51 times during the study. These videos varied greatly in terms of ages and activity observed including children aged between four, to teenagers.
In nine out of 10 times (92%), there were two children with one tending to be slightly older. In some cases, there were more than two children, but this was less common (8%).
• Just girls (42%)
• Boys and girls together (33%), and
• Just boys (25%).
The older child would often take the lead and involve their younger sibling.
Ages spanned between three years old, to 16 years old.
The average age of the youngest sibling was 10 and the eldest 12.
Whilst in most cases with two children, one was slightly older, there were some instances of more significant age differences of up to 5 years or more.
Manipulation and coercion
It is clear to us that these children were manipulated or coerced into sexual activity by adults online via a live stream and that these videos and snapshots were subsequently shared widely using a variety of different web platforms.
We saw evidence which leads us to believe that some of these adults were posing as other children.
Children were observed reading comments and what were probable instructions – often getting close to the screen or reading aloud.
Through their conversations we were able to conclude that in many cases, children were being shown sexual material online and being asked to copy it.
Sometimes the abuse would take the form of a game or ‘dare’ with no evidence that the children had any understanding of the sexual nature of what they were doing.
We also saw some instances which indicated some of the children had been exposed to sexual content at an extremely young age; they appeared to have some level of understanding that the behaviour was ‘adult’.
Locations were almost exclusively domestic in appearance – a room within a family home.
Sometimes we could hear adults in the background behind closed doors moving around and talking just metres away from the children with no apparent knowledge of what was happening to the child.
Some children even quickly stopped the live stream at the call of an adult or a knock at the door.
This material was shared across all site types but was predominantly found via Cyberlockers (59%).
Image hosts accounted for 23% and forums accounted for 10%.
How does this study help our work?
We hope that by understanding the crimes committed against children, and how these can happen in the family home using the internet will help our, and others’, knowledge of the problem.
The regularity with which our analysts are seeing this trend is extremely concerning. Online offenders targeting children in this way and encouraging them into sexual activity with their siblings could lead to mental health challenges and physical damage.
Our work with industry, the third sector and government is critical to getting this illegal material removed quickly, but more needs to be done to help prevent it being created in the first place.
This study will help inform our awareness and educational campaigns.
What we saw: An 11 year old boy appears embarrassed when asked by his brother to engage in oral sex.
What we saw: A six year old boy was observed pointing to the screen, saying “like that”. This indicated to us that the pair were copying something they were being shown. The four year old girl that he’s with then says “ow”, and she starts to cry. The boy stops and looks nervous and confused.
What we saw:: Three boys appear to be talking to a woman online. At times they are visibly shocked by what they are seeing. They read out apparent instructions from her including a request to take off their underwear and touch each other.
What we saw: Two girls take turns whispering in each other’s ear suggesting what they should do next.
What we saw: An eight year old boy is visibly upset by the things his older brother wants him to do.
What we saw: Two 11 year old girls offer to show their underwear for more ‘likes’.