Live-streamed child sexual abuse is a crime that is increasingly difficult to detect and investigate as cases are taking place simultaneously around the world.
Take for instance the analogy of finding a needle in a haystack, only this needle exists for a finite period of time – and no one has told you where the haystack is.
IAs we are not able to monitor every single digital interaction in the world, there is no definitive technology available that is able to detect live-streaming child sexual abuse. Law enforcement agencies around the world are already playing technological catch-up to a rapidly evolving crime type.
To tackle this, and future exploitation of innocent children, police and digital forensics investigators need greater resources, better information sharing, consistent enforcement and greater support from the technology industry.
Case study: Task Force Argos breaks into international child sex ring
Recently there have been some notable victories in the fight against live-streamed child sexual abuse. Eight children were saved from sexual abuse following the arrest of a child exploitation group. The arrests and rescues resulted from international collaboration between law enforcement agencies in Belgium, the Philippines and Australia.
Task Force Argos, who uses NetClean image analysis software in their investigations, was one of the units involved in identifying and rescuing the children. This is an example of the law enforcement community collaborating to overcome one of the most challenging crime types that the online world has orchestrated.
According to Europol the operation began in Belgium. A case was built against a Dutch citizen in Antwerp who was found to be sexually abusing his foster children in Cambodia as well as other children in the Philippines. Authorities were able to track his involvement in producing and distributing child abuse images and videos of live child abuse that were filmed in front of webcams. The Dutch suspect and a female abuser were arrested, and all eight of the vulnerable children were removed from harm.
Build a network of relationships from a single image
The collaborative efforts of Task Force Argos investigators working together with the Crimes Against the Person Section of the Antwerp Police and the National Bureau of Investigation in the Philippines highlight how critical it is to find those who view or distribute child sexual abuse material, and analyse all of the content available, regardless of how much or little there may be.
All it takes is one image or video to spark a series of clues that bring the whole house of cards tumbling down. This demonstrates that even those who participate in live-streamed abuse, where the digital evidence of abuse is fleeting, can be brought to justice.
Those who watch this content often save videos or screenshots so they can look at it again. Analysing this material can be critical for breaking cases. However, all too often this kind of imagery is hidden in plain sight, buried within caseloads of forensic evidence.
Traditional methods require police investigators to manually sift through hundreds of thousands of images of child sexual abuse. These days, technological advancement has significantly changed the way digital forensics solves crimes.
Earlier this year, NetClean met up with a team of Child Sexual Abuse Image (CSAI) investigators in Australia and New Zealand to explore new ways of using the techniques and applications on the Analyze platform. In one of the cases the investigators were able to reduce caseload from 140,000 images to 70,000 in just 10 minutes, and after that continued to effectively narrow it down to the 10 per cent of content that were the most pertinent.
Law enforcement need investment, training and the right tools to ensure they can focus on new material, containing new and stranded victims, not the same images that appear in ever pedophiles collection.
We’re all in
Every computer and every network should be equipped to identify when a child sexual abuse image or video is viewed, downloaded or shared. Finding one individual who uses this kind of content can lead to the rescue of children and the breaking of international abuse rings.
From a policing perspective, law enforcement agencies are implementing NetClean technologies such as Analyze DI all around the world. The digital forensic analysis tool helps cut costs through significantly reducing investigators workload which results in an increase in efficiency.
More importantly, it increases the quality of investigations by freeing up time and putting better tools in the hands of the investigator. New technologies are developed to simplify investigations involving digital media, eliminating duplicated efforts, reducing manual review to increase the impact of the investigations. This allows investigators to focus efforts on processing more cases, at a faster pace and with a greater outcome.
As a society we need to evolve our attitude to online child sexual abuse and accept that each of these images and videos is a crime-scene. Even terminologies like ‘child pornography’ legitimise this serious crime as a sexual predilection.
The sanctions for those who turn a blind eye are a hugely positive move in encouraging our mutual responsibility. But in reality we can’t just look to social services, teachers and doctors to identify and stop abuse. The ability to make a difference starts in every community.
By Christian Berg, CEO of NetClean