Child sex abuse live streams loophole to be closed

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Image caption Experts have warned that live streaming of child sexual abuse is happening more often

The UK's government aims to tackle the spread of child sexual abuse imagery online by closing a legal loophole.

It has proposed that live video streams of abuse should be punished in the same way that recorded clips already are.

It would mean that people who broadcast such footage would face up to 14 years in jail.

In the past, offenders have sometimes been given lighter sentences if the authorities could not prove a recording was made.

The plan was announced as part of the Queen's Speech, in which the the government set out its legislative programme for the year ahead.

The change is relevant to a loophole in England and Wales' legal system, but not Northern Ireland or Scotland's.

Image caption The proposed change to the law was included in the Queen's Speech

Tougher sentences

The live streaming of child sexual abuse over the internet is a growing problem, according to a report published by the EU's law enforcement agency Europol last year.

"The popularisation of webcams and chat platforms that enable the streaming of live images and video has led to their exploitation by child sexual abusers," it said.

"Some applications allow users to upgrade their accounts by paying a fee, guaranteeing access to extended features such as broadcasts protected by passwords and extra layers of anonymity.

"It is a crime that is hard to detect and investigate since the offenders do not usually store a copy of the streamed material."

The report noted that much of the activity involved children filmed in deprived economies, typically Eastern Asia.

However, there have been prosecutions involving cases in the UK.

In 2013, a teacher working in Birmingham and two accomplices were arrested after broadcasting live footage of sexual abuse involving a 15-year-old girl.

The teacher, William Hanna, was subsequently sentenced to seven years in prison after being convicted of three charges of sexual activity with a child and ordered to sign the sex offenders' register for life.

Because there was no evidence that footage of the abuse had been recorded, he could not be prosecuted for a related offence of causing or inciting the sexual exploitation of a child, as defined by the Sexual Offences Act 2003.

The change to the law would give the Crown Prosecution Service the ability to seek such a conviction for other live video stream creators in the future.

"The horrors of this kind of abuse were highlighted in a recent court case where sexual assaults against babies were being streamed for paedophiles to watch," commented a spokesman for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children charity.

"A crackdown on this sickening type of crime is a positive step. But sex offenders will always be looking for ways to harm children, so while this will close one loophole we must be vigilant to ensure others do not open in its place."

The government also set out plans to introduce sanctions for professionals who fail to try to stop child abuse where it is their duty to act, as part of a new Policing and Criminal Justice Bill.

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