The prevalence in the use of the internet for grooming young children has been increasing over recent years, with more and more young people having access to the internet through various devices. Europol have called this no longer “an emerging trend, but an established reality” (1).
In statistics obtained under the Freedom of Information Act from Greater Manchester Police, nearly 400 children, some as young as seven years old, reported to have been groomed via social media sites, mobile apps and chat rooms. Paedophiles used mainly Facebook and WhatsApp but also Snapchat, BBM, Skype and Oovoo. Police brought charges against some, however in many cases, suspects could not be identified.
An international problem
Recent cases have seen paedophiles pay for live streaming of child abuse. Experts say that the police cannot intercept these live feeds of video. In a report by the BBC (2) in 2014, a journalist met children in the Philippines as young as five who had been assaulted by their own parents when sex offenders in Europe pay them to do so.
In the case of Monk, an abuser paying ‘facilitators’ to abuse children whilst he live streamed the video, he then travelled to the Philippines to abuse in person.
A US paedophile was jailed in 2014 after posing as a school boy on Clash of Clans to target a 14 year old girl and convincing her to run away with him, before travelling from the US to UK to sexually abuse her.
Dutch charity Terre des Hommes (3) set up a fake profile of a 10 year old Filipina child and logged onto internet chat rooms posing as her. Within 10 weeks, she was contacted by 20,000 men, and offered money to perform sex acts by 1,000 men.
The National Crime Agency worked with Australian Federal Police and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Operation Endeavour, which has led to 29 international arrests (4), 17 of which were in the UK. The arrests in the UK resulted in five convictions and nine ongoing investigations. The Virtual Global Taskforce (5) has 13 members including 11 countries and organisations Europol and Interpol. This is a tiny number of investigations and convictions compared to the scale of the problem.
Tragic case which led to murder
In a recent case told to the BBC (6), Breck Bednar met his abuser Daynes on an internet server which Daynes owned. Breck was groomed online by Daynes, who in 2014 convinced Breck to meet with him, abused him and murdered him. Breck’s mother had reported to the police her concerns about the abuser and his control over Breck’s life before his tragic death. Her concerns were not taken seriously or acted upon, and she was told simply to tell Daynes not to contact Breck any more (7). It was only after her son had been killed that she found out that in 2011 Daynes had been accused of raping a boy, and possessing indecent images, but had not been charged. Breck’s family have now set up a campaign (8)on internet safety, to raise awareness of grooming.
At Bolt Burdon Kemp we find that many abusers had already demonstrated sexual interest in children through possession of indecent images, but that the indecent images are discovered only after abuse victims have contacted the police.
Of course investigations take time and resources, but in a world of internet communication as a daily aspect of most of our lives, we only have to look at the case of Breck Bednar to see that there are examples where more can be done to protect children from online grooming. If it had been, the outcome in this case could have been very different.
Compensation for images
My colleague Abbie’s recent blog on sexting (9) discusses our recent case of ABC v West Heath 2000 Limited and William Whillock. In this our client obtained an award of damages due to the judge’s finding that she had been groomed, sent and encouraged to send messages of a sexual content as well as indecent images of herself.
Civil Courts are now becoming more aware of the impact, psychological control and damage that grooming, sexting and sharing of indecent images can cause victims. Whilst the case of ABC related to text messages and photographs, there is no reason that the same should not apply to victims of online grooming. This is an area of law ripe for development.