How Livestreaming Child Sexual Exploitation Confuses Lawmakers


The internet has challenged policymakers by introducing numerous harmful actions over a short period.

Livestreamed child sexual exploitation (LCSE) is an especially damaging offense that often goes unaddressed due to discovery and prosecution complexities.

Currently, no international agreement exists that defines livestreamed child abuse and exploitation.

These limitations coupled with rising internet streaming and image capture prevalence, may enable LCSE growth for the foreseeable future.

Livestreamed child sexual exploitation is a rising issue that current international legislations have failed to address.

This article covers why abusers prefer livestreaming, how livestreamed child abusers escape law enforcement, and how legal cohesion can address the issue.

What is LCSE?

LCSE involves abusers coercing minors into sexually exploitative acts on an ongoing web broadcast.

Children may self-generate this content at the request of the abuser.

Often, the offender and minor may be in a real or perceived romantic relationship where the victim believes their sexual livestream to be exclusive.

Abuser-filmed LCSE often comes from someone the victim knows well and trusts.

These individuals have special access to the victim, enabling repeated abusive livestreams.

Since law enforcement relies heavily on children’s guardians to report online abuse, parent-filmed LCSE often goes undiscovered.

A third-party viewer may influence the broadcast by making real-time requests, ranging from forcing the victim to say a name to rape.

This setup enables an experienced livestreamer to broadcast LCSE instead of a less adept sexually-interested party. 

Why Livestream Abuse Spreads


Livestreaming attracts criminals due to its temporary nature.

Unless the streamer or a viewer records the broadcast, it will disappear from the internet.

This disappearance gives observers a narrow window to report the offense and leads to many livestreams going undiscovered.

Abusers often transmit LCSE as a private conversation.[1]

Since most platforms don’t monitor private conversations, these sessions routinely pass under the radar.

Poverty in some countries has created a perverse monetary incentive to livestream child sexual abuse material (CSAM).

Streamers can monetize their broadcasts, and more severe LCSE, such as rape, may earn $3,000 per session.[2]

Because LCSE provides critical income to poverty-stricken neighborhoods, perpetrators may perceive the crime as their only option.

Research suggests some areas may not perceive CSAM broadcasts as socially unacceptable, particularly in cases where the child makes no physical contact with an adult.[3] 

How Rising Livestreaming Rates Are Inevitable


Livestreaming requires more bandwidth than other types of streaming.

While most global online users can meet the minimum 10 Mbps experts recommend, users in some locations can barely surpass it.

This status handicaps streams’ image quality and buffering speed, sometimes leading to nearly unwatchable broadcasts.

From 2020 to 2023, average global internet speeds nearly doubled [4], massively boosting the pool of users who can successfully livestream.

Also, children have unprecedented internet and camera access and may use these devices to engage with strangers who harbor ill intent.

National Child Abuse Laws are Inadequate

Many U.S. states target live-streamed child abuse when it crosses the legal definition of child pornography.

Unfortunately, this definition is often too broad to address all forms of minor exploitation.

U.S. legal codes [5] highlight sexually explicit content, including anything designed to arouse viewers.

This focus neglects non-explicit interactions focused on grooming children into providing eventual sexual favors.

Weak legislation and enforcement in developing countries give online crime an immunity zone, ensuring its perpetuation, regardless of global norms.

Universal jurisdiction combats this problem by empowering law enforcement to prosecute offenders of any national origin.

Effectively combatting LCSE requires significant investigative capacity.

Identifying victims is crucial, a skill lacking in many districts.

Many offenders use the Dark Web to stream or view LCSE

Authorities’ knowledge gaps surrounding this online marketplace empower abusers.

International Child Abuse Laws are Inadequate

No international legal framework explicitly criminalizes LCSE.

The following international agreements are interpretable as condemning LCSE:

The Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 34 (c): This article mandates that countries shall, in particular, take all appropriate measures to prevent the exploitative use of children in pornographic performances and materials. [6]

The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, Article 3(1)(a)(i): This article mandates countries criminalize offering, delivering or accepting, by whatever means, a child for the purpose of sexual exploitation of the child. [7]

The International Labour Organisation Convention 182 concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour, Article 3(b): This article mandates participant countries criminalize the use, procuring or offering of a child for [...] pornographic performances. [8]

All these articles were drafted in 2000 or earlier, meaning livestreaming was still in its infancy.

As such, they lack specific condemnation of livestreaming or adequate definitions that can be consistently applied to all LCSE.

Terms like child pornography are insufficient to prosecute LCSE, especially since the drafters of The Optional Protocol failed to include a definition.

Regional Concerns: Europe

The below European convention, known as the Lanzarote Convention, is open for signature and ratification by non-European countries.

The Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse, Article 21(1)(a,b,c): These articles mandate participant countries criminalize recruiting a child into participating in pornographic performances or causing a child to participate in such performances, coercing a child into participating in pornographic performances or profiting from or otherwise exploiting a child for such purposes, knowingly attending pornographic performances involving the participation of children. [9]

Article 24 condemns the aiding or abetting and attempt of the above offenses.

However, this convention enables state parties to avoid criminalizing the knowing attendance of child pornographic performances. (Article 21(2)).

Held in 2007, this convention still fails to specify LCSE as a targetable offense.

The Need for an Adequate International Legal Code


The lack of a harmonized international legal framework targeting LCSE complicates investigations.

Law enforcement struggles to gain adequate resources to challenge online exploitation since weak legislation leaves them with poor target definitions.

Without international legal cooperation, pursuing investigations in other countries is difficult, providing offenders excellent opportunities to escape justice.

Conclusion

International and national institutions must refine their legal frameworks to better combat LCSE.

Comprehensive efforts targeting LCSE should include clearer definitions that specifically mention livestreamed content.

International cooperation is crucial to ensure offenders have no free zones where they can commit online abuse with impunity.


What is Human Trafficking Front Doing?

At Human Trafficking Front, we advocate for stronger legal frameworks with specific criminalization of live-streamed child abuse.

Below are some of our advocacy efforts:

● We advocate for enhanced international cooperation to ensure abusers in different countries can not pick up the slack from fellow streamers removed by local law enforcement.

This cooperation must include a broader definition of criminal offenses than child pornography.

● We advocate for better resources for law enforcement to address LCSE.

● We advocate that financial institutions trace and monitor suspicious transactions associated with LCSE.

● We educate parents, relevant professionals, and communities about the illegality, impact, and risks related to LCSE. 

Key Takeaways

1. Livestreamed CSAM is the real-time broadcast of minor sexual abuse.

2. Criminals appreciate internet broadcasts’ temporary nature.

3. Modern internet speeds have given most of the globe the ability to stream.

4. State’s failure to adopt clear, universal legislation enables livestreamed abuse.

Act Now. For more tools and information, check out our Resources page.  

Additional Details

This best practices prevention guide and publication is part of the Human Trafficking Front's program: Putting an End to the Online Sexual Exploitation of Children: Preventing Victimization and Strengthening Child Protection Systems.

Recommended Citation

Human Trafficking Front. (2023, December 15). How Livestreaming Child Sexual Exploitation Confuses Lawmakers. https://humantraffickingfront.org/live-streamed-child-exploitation/ 

References

[1] U.S. Department of Justice. (June, 2023). Livestreaming and Virtual Child Sex Trafficking, at 1, https://www.justice.gov/d9/2023-06/livestreaming_and_virtual_child_sex_trafficking_2.pdf.

[2] Europol. (2014). Internet Organised Crime Threat Assessment (IOCTA), at 32, https://www.europol.europa.eu/cms/sites/default/files/documents/europol_iocta_web.pdf.

[3] WePROTECT Global Alliance. (2019). Global Threat Assessment, at 33,  https://www.weprotect.org/wp-content/uploads/WPGA-Global-Threat-Assessment-2019.pdf.

[4] Statista. (2023). Chart: Global Average Internet Download Speed, Statista, https://www.statista.com/chart/31075/global-average-internet-download-speed/.

[5] U.S. Legal Code. Title 18. Crimes and Criminal Procedure. Part I. Crimes. Chapter 110. Sexual Exploitation and Other Abuse of Children. Section 2256. Cornell Law School, Legal Information Institute. https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/2256.

[6] Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article 34 (c). Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. https://www.ohchr.org/en/instruments-mechanisms/instruments/convention-rights-child.

[7] Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography. Article 3(1)(a)(i). Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. https://www.ohchr.org/en/instruments-mechanisms/instruments/optional-protocol-convention-rights-child-sale-children-child

[8] Convention No. 182 concerning the Worst Forms of Child Labour. Article 3(b). International Labour Organization. https://www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=NORMLEXPUB:12100:0::NO::P12100_ILO_CODE:C182

[9] Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse (Lanzarote, 25.X.2007). Article 21(1)(a,b,c). Council of Europe. https://rm.coe.int/1680084822 

Human Trafficking Front
 

Dr. Beatriz Susana Uitts is a human rights specialist, Internet child safety advocate, and founder of Human Trafficking Front, a research and advocacy organization for the prevention of human trafficking. Dr. Uitts holds a J.S.D. and LL.M. in Intercultural Human Rights from St. Thomas University College of Law in Miami Gardens, FL, and is the author of the book Sex Trafficking of Children Online: Modern Slavery in Cyberspace regarding the growing problem of online child sexual exploitation. In this book, she proposes solutions to prevent its spread and promote a safer Internet for children and adolescents worldwide.