Purdue University Graduate School
Daniel Spencer_ThesisFinal.pdf (1.25 MB)

The Challenges Facing Law Enforcement In Live-Streamed Child Sexual Abuse Cases

Download (1.25 MB)
posted on 2023-08-07, 15:29 authored by Daniel Dale Spencer IIIDaniel Dale Spencer III

The live streaming of child sexual abuse is a serious problem that demands urgent attention from law enforcement, legislature, and the platforms that it occurs on. While child sexual exploitation and abuse crimes have been occurring for decades, the growing number of internet users combined with the recent Covid-19 outbreak has shifted a lot of these crimes online. Crimes that occur over live streams are particularly difficult to investigate. Previous research has highlighted four main types of challenges associated with these types of cases: legislative, social, technical, and investigative. While studies have been conducted that explored these challenges individually, this study fills a research gap by exploring which of these challenges affect law enforcement personnel that work live-streamed child sexual abuse cases post-Covid-19. For this study, an anonymous online survey was sent out to law enforcement individuals and agencies nationwide. The survey was actively distributed for one month. Out of the 29 responses received, 13 participants qualified to take the survey and were asked about the challenges they faced working these types of cases and about any solutions to these challenges. After collecting the data, descriptive statistics identified the challenges, and a thematic analysis was conducted. Following a grounded theory process, the analysis identified five main themes that encompassed multiple types of challenges and solutions. These themes were: a lack of consensus, education, the role of application service providers and platforms, a need for better technology, and out-of-jurisdiction challenges. These themes explored in-depth the participants’ responses and further identified the challenges facing law enforcement that work live-streamed child sexual abuse cases, as well as any current solutions to these challenges. Two main challenges frequently mentioned by the participants were end-to-end encryption and anonymizing services, and one of the main solutions to many of the challenges was the education of parents, children, and legislators. For future research, the author recommends exploration of the following topics: the investigation of the factors that play strong roles in determining the time it takes to investigate live-streamed child sexual abuse cases, research related to how AI could assist law enforcement working these cases, further exploration of a framework for the education of parents and children about social media usage and the risks of live streaming, how social platforms can be used in many ways, and research that examines how often law enforcement encounters live-streamed child sexual abuse cases/whether these cases are common or not. 


Degree Type

  • Master of Science


  • Computer and Information Technology

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Dr. Kathryn Seigfried-Spellar

Additional Committee Member 2

Dr. John A. Springer

Additional Committee Member 3

Dr. Tatiana Ringenberg