Addressing the Challenges of Online Child Sexual Exploitation

January 16, 2019 @ 9:00 am – 4:30 pm
The Hough End Centre
Mauldeth Road West
Chorlton, Manchester
M21 7SX
Matthew Thomas

We invite you to register interest in a multi-disciplinary workshop organised jointly by Greater Manchester Police and the University of Manchester, to scope and develop potential research projects that address the challenges of online child sexual exploitation (OCSE). The workshop will be held at GMP’s Hough End Centre from 9am to 4.30pm on Wednesday 16 January.

Places are limited and we encourage you to register interest as soon as possible. Places will be confirmed on 7 January.


OCSE is a high priority for national and local government, police, and security agencies and raises significant challenges for prevention, detection, investigation, and prosecution. OCSE is significant and growing (Barnados, 2015; Internet Watch Foundation, 2018). A particular challenge for prevention and detection is live-streamed abuse, which involves children being coerced into engaging in sexual behaviour or being sexually abused in front of a webcam, with footage live-streamed over the internet to offenders who pay to view the abuse and often to direct the activities. The abuse is often recorded and images captured, with both being widely redistributed online, potentially in perpetuity.

A common stereotype of victims is that they are children in resource-poor countries (commonly in South East Asia), but scenarios encountered by our child protection agencies more commonly involve white girls in relatively affluent Western settings. In a 2017 “snapshot” of OCSE live streaming activity, the IWF reported 96% of images depicted children on their own, typically in a domestic setting such as a bedroom. Initially, sexual activity may be low-level, “self-generated” but offenders rapidly groom and manipulate their victims into more explicit activity. Such coercion can be via threats (blackmail) but is commonly via rewards (gifts or “likes”).

Potential research topics

Child online protection has been the focus of international research activity for some years, but many challenges are still poorly understood. Much needs to be done simply to keep up with the rapid pace of the development of and changes in our use of internet technologies. Researchers from diverse disciplines could make an important contribution to many issues relevant to preventing and disrupting OCSE, including the following:

  • Victims – characteristics, behaviours, risk-taking activity online. Potential avenues for education / behaviour change, victim support.
  • Online platforms – Role of service providers (websites, apps, payment services etc) in protecting young people, methods to support established and start-up providers to ensure children are adequately protected online.
  • Offenders who produce OCSE material – their modus operandi, patterns of behaviour, how they overcome organisational, technical, social, marketing, financial, and security-related challenges.
  • Offenders who consume OCSE material – offending pathways, modus operandi, rehabilitation and harm minimisation.
  • Detection and intervention – technological and other approaches to automatically detect and block risky online behaviours (eg through image analysis, identifying patterns of activity), encouraging reporting by members of the public, supporting front line responders.
  • Current and potential legislation and regulatory instruments, international cooperation.

A document listing some indicative questions for these topics can be downloaded here

The Workshop

The workshop will bring together police and other stakeholders with academic researchers from UoM, together with other universities in the North West.

The aims are:

  • to develop potential collaborative research projects that could be used as the basis for funding proposals in response to anticipated funding calls;
  • to share knowledge across the academic and stakeholder communities and develop collaborative relationships;
  • to explore barriers to and facilitators of research in this area (e.g., existing local / national datasets, security issues, ethics, researcher protection).

The workshop will take the form of a facilitated ‘sandpit’ over one day, involving short presentations from subject matter experts highlighting some of the challenges and opportunities in this area, and extended workshop sessions in which participants will work together to develop potential research projects.

We hope you can join us on 16 January. Please register here as soon as possible (and by 4 January at the latest).

If you have any questions, please contact Matthew Thomas who is assisting in coordinating logistics.

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