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Stronger penalties needed for online child sex offenders in UK, says report backed by Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner and MPs
UK sex offenders who pay to livestream the sexual exploitation of children are too often receiving short sentences that do not reflect the gravity of the crime and do not provide survivors with justice, a composite case review by International Justice Mission reveals today.
Thu Nov 05 20205 min read

LONDON – UK sex offenders who pay to livestream the sexual exploitation of children are too often receiving short sentences that do not reflect the gravity of the crime and do not provide survivors with justice, a composite case review by International Justice Mission reveals today.

The report, titled “Falling Short: Demand-Side Sentencing for Online Sexual Exploitation of Children – Composite Case Review, Analysis, and Recommendations for the United Kingdom,” revealed that UK offenders reviewed in the report who sexually abused Filipino children by directing, paying for, and consuming livestreamed abuse will spend on average only 2 years, 4 months in prison prior to being released ‘on license’ in the community to serve their non-custodial sentence – even though they committed multiple crimes that severely traumatized Filipino children.

The report, which comes with nine recommendations, has been backed by the UK’s Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Dame Sara Thornton, Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP and charities.

“Despite the UK’s robust law enforcement efforts, sentences for these offenders fail to reflect the gravity of their crimes, leaving survivors empty handed in their pursuit of justice,” the paper reads.

John Tanagho, Director of IJM’s Center to End Online Sexual Exploitation of Children, stated:

This report highlights the need to hold demand-side offenders accountable for the severe harm they cause victims—vulnerable children at home and abroad— and to provide justice to survivors of livestreamed sexual abuse. While it examines cases involving UK offenders, it serves as an opportunity for all demand-side nations to review their sentencing schemes.”

The report recommends amending UK’s sentencing guidelines and legislation on online sexual exploitation of children to better reflect the exploitative nature of the crime and the severe harm caused to victims.

Many of the children abused in this way are extremely young – some have been just a few months old. These children are often left with mental and physical trauma, some even contracting sexually transmitted diseases.

The report includes hand-written statements from 10 Filipino survivors of livestreamed sexual abuse about the suffering they experienced and their critical perspectives on sentencing. IJM recommends the use of “proxy victim statements” during sentencing in the UK. The report quoted a 12-year-old survivor from the Philippines who said:

I will not accept two years imprisonment for online sexual exploitation of children offenders because they abused us and took us away from our families, and this should not be taken lightly. They destroyed our innocence.

In one case study, a UK offender spent £8,584 directing the livestreamed sexual abuse of Filipino children for two and a half years. When this UK offender’s local in-person trafficker was arrested by Philippine law enforcement in the Philippines, six children ages ranging from three to 14, were rescued. Yet this offender will only serve one year and seven months in prison.

Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP said: "There is, rightly, a great deal of attention on the exploitation and abuse of vulnerable children living in communities across the UK. It’s not clear to me why British sexual offenders choosing to abuse by proxy should be treated with any less seriousness. They are just as complicit in the harm caused. Morally, it’s my view that they may as well have been in the room when their instructions were acted out on an innocent child. For that reason, it’s unacceptable that child abusers such as Andrew W, Andrew L and James A were handed such lenient sentences. For directing the livestream abuse of a nine-year-old girl and other children, Andrew W will spend 1 year 7 months behind bars. Longer sentences have been given for possession of Class C drugs such as tranquillizers. Inadequate sentences such as these undermine the seriousness of child sexual abuse offenses, and fail to deliver the justice that victims deserve. They hinder efforts to deter future offending, both by the convicted and other child sexual abusers.”

UK Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner Dame Sara Thornton said:

I welcome this report and the emphasis it places on offenders being prosecuted using offences under the Modern Slavery Act 2015. We repeatedly see alternative offences being used which fail to call out serious offending for what it is – human trafficking and exploitation.

According to the UK National Crime Agency, the UK is the third largest global consumer of livestreamed abuse, with livestreaming abuse “one of the emerging threats” to children today, as reported in the UK Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.

On top of this, the COVID-19 pandemic has created the perfect storm for increases in exploitation, with sex offenders in places like the UK spending more time at home online, and children also at home in the places like the Philippines, often locked in with their traffickers. EUROPOL’s more recent organized crime threat assessment reports that “livestreaming of child sexual abuse continues to increase, becoming even more popular than usual during the COVID-19 crisis, when travel restrictions prevented offenders from physically abusing children.”

It is vital that urgent action – including sentencing that fits the crime – is taken to stop this crime from growing and to provide justice for survivors.

IJM’s report also recommends prosecuting and convicting offenders under child sexual exploitation offenses within the Sexual Offenses Act 2003; sentencing livestreaming offenders on par with contact sex offenders; amplifying the experience of survivors at sentencing; and instituting mandatory parole review for all online child sex offenders in UK; among others.

Copies of the IJM report have been sent to Members of the UK Parliament, and a Parliamentary roundtable discussion is scheduled for 5th November. ###

About International Justice Mission: IJM is a global organization that protects people in poverty from violence, including slavery, online sexual exploitation of children and violence against women and children. IJM partners with local authorities to rescue victims of violence, bring criminals to justice, restore survivors, and strengthen justice systems.

For more inquiries, contact: Molly Hodson IJM UK Director, Marketing and External Affairs [email protected] 07877889462

Evelyn Pingul IJM Philippines Communications, Activation and Partnerships Director [email protected]

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