Children as young as three live-stream to online predators, report finds

Children as young as three are live streaming images of themselves to online predators, the Internet Watch Foundation has warned. 

The organisation, which monitors abusive content online, said children were being groomed by strangers using a form of online game in which children agreed to activities such as "sexual posing" once they received a certain number of likes.

"As the “game” proceeds, the child may agree to other acts - the higher the number of likes, the greater the victimisation," the report said. 

Footage was often filmed in a child's bedroom or a bathroom with the door closed, the researchers found. 

"In one case, the victim at intervals turned her attention from the webcam to engage in routine conversation with a parent who was outside the room," the report found. 

Almost all the victims were female, with 69 per cent aged between 11 and 13.

Its study of footage on the internet over three months between August and October last year found more than 2,000 examples of image and video captures of live-streamed child sexual abuse. 

In most instances the child was alone in the footage or images, but in some cases they showed a younger child and an older child together.

Susie Hargreaves OBE, chief executive of the IWF, said: “This form of grooming is complicated and only possible because of the ‘anonymity’ the internet offers. 

"An offender may be, for example, a 40-year-old man. But by abusing a legitimate internet site to create a false profile, he could appear online as a 12-year- old school girl. Sadly, through this study we saw a range of grooming scenarios that abusers employ."

Charities called for tighter regulations of social media companies.

Andy Burrows, NSPCC associate head of child safety online, said: "It’s time for tech firms to finally be held accountable. Too many children are abused on social media platforms, and it is time for industry to take responsibility and do more to tackle abuse at its source."