Raped, exploited and forced into dark web 'red rooms': A decade of modern slavery and failure laid bare

7 February 2024, 08:07

Scarlett Jenkinson (L) who killed Brianna Ghey, accessed torture content online
Scarlett Jenkinson (L) who killed Brianna Ghey, accessed torture content online. Picture: Cheshire Constabulary

By Chris Chambers

During the trial of Brianna Ghey's murderers we heard how Scarlett Jenkinson (Girl X), who was 15 at the time, had an obsession with violence, would trawl the dark web looking for gore, immerse herself in violent imagery and had access to 'Red Rooms' where abuse would take place on a live stream.

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On the other side of those feeds there are people being abused, raped and subjected to horrific levels of violence, often at the hands of organised crime gangs and for audiences outside the UK.

Speaking exclusively to LBC, 'Caitlin' (not her real name) has revealed how she was raped as a child, blackmailed and then sexually exploited. As part of that exploitation she was moved around the country, put in front of Red Room feeds where people paid to take part in the abuse.

“It was roughly nine or ten years I was involved... and I was exploited, sexual exploitation, effectively forced prostitution.

"It started when I was around 12. I was raped, and a video of that rape was then used to blackmail me. It was filmed, edited and distorted into a way that could potentially look like something else. I knew that if it went round school, that would be game over for my life, that’s how I viewed it as an 11/12 year old.

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“That was enough to get me "in", but as time went on it became much more violent, threats that they'd kill me, my family, in horrific ways. Other girls that were involved, they'd harm them if I did something wrong so then you get this "oh my god I'm responsible for someone else's safety". If I did something wrong, they'd waterboard me. Waterboarding was a common punishment. It evolved from we're gonna send something round (on video) to we're gonna kill you, we're gonna kill your family, we're gonna firebomb your house, we're gonna kill all your friends, the other girls... stuff like that.

“In terms of what they made me do, it went from arranged meetings of people paying to rape me essentially, onto more online spaces, into something that was called 'Red-Rooming' where it's a room with cameras set up to a feed. I'm not quite sure where, but then people would pay to have more brutal stuff done. Strangulation, knives, hammers, the more physically dangerous stuff. I was being moved around the country more frequently, going to places where I shouldn't have been. I didn't know where I was, and was going missing.

Dan Sexton, part of the team at the Internet Watch Foundation, which specialises in tracking down child abuse imagery online, particularly on the dark web, and having it removed, told LBC that Red Rooms "are not something our analysts come across very often."

He added: "We do often see images and videos that have been taken from live feeds and then recorded and distributed but live feeds, although very aware it is a very real problem, and a really horrendous problem certainly in certain countries, the abuse of children over live feeds is not something we encounter very often in our work.

"What we're talking about is hidden services, so websites you cannot find, that you can't browse to, you need to know where you're going, you need to know exactly where they are to get to them, so you can't search for them. It's anonymity, and this is what's brought out the worst kind of activity and the worst kind of behaviour.

"You need to have been told where to go by somebody who's given you the link. So it does mean there are more dedicated offenders who are going to the dark web for a specific purpose."

Speaking about how she escaped the abuse, 'Caitlin' told LBC how she was repeatedly failed by authorities who dismissed her claims as lies, accused her of being a prostitute, and in some cases were involved in her abuse.

She said: "One of my most vivid memories was the first time I was raped by a police officer. There were police involved in my abuse, so it became impossible to trust them, access any help from them, even if they were supportive, which they very rarely were. They were very dismissive, calling me a prostitute, I was a troubled teen and choosing this lifestyle and nothing was going to change unless I changed my mindset. There'd be no acknowledgement that I was a victim. And, the same from social services who said I was a liar trying to save face from being caught. There was no support at all. I felt they kept me in it longer than I needed to be in it.

"I think there's this big thing that parents should know, that they should have a sixth sense like they should know something's wrong. I did a very good job of hiding it. I was a straight-A student. School and my education I saw as my only way out. I thought if I can get to uni I can move away. To everyone around me I was okay. Concerns were raised when I started self-harming, I tried to commit suicide an alarming number of times, my parents and family were really great at trying to get me the mental health support I needed but at the time I wasn't disclosing what was happening.

"I think it's really important that this idea of everyone will know because it's easy to spot the signs.... NO! You can be a fully functioning person on the outside, but hiding, scared, terrified on the inside and just trying to get through life. I think that's something that's not really acknowledged.

“I didn't get free until university when a lecturer believed me and listened. Throughout it all I wasn't being listened to, I was being called a liar and called a prostitute and being blamed for what was happening and it was my fault. It wasn't until someone acknowledged me as a victim... that lecturer went above and beyond and I owe her my life."

Matt Sutton, from the National Crime Agency, told LBC: "Whether it be streaming in other countries of abuse on children or other adults, that are then streamed across the world, we work closely with other countries to try and locate those places and stop them.

"It's a constant thing that us, and other law enforcement agencies across the world look to try and do as a first step. We don't allow these to happen with our knowledge, so the moment we've found them we'll take them down or we'll close them, or send someone to rescue whoever might be there.

"One of the problems you have when you use certain tools that can obfuscate where the IP address has come from, then it becomes more difficult to resolve that to a location and then shut it down.

The extreme levels of abuse experienced by 'Caitlin' are not unique, and while she has now managed to begin building a new life, she has told LBC she is passionate about making sure nobody else has to go through what she did.

She said: "I'm a survivor... I'm a victim... but none of those words sit very well with me because they're both super-loaded.

"People need to be talking about this, it needs to be highlighted as an issue, and I'm so passionate to be an advocate for change and help people as much as I can, because something has to give.

"There's so much that needs to change, attitudes need to change by those in authority, social workers need to change the way victims are thought about from 'troubled children' to they are experiencing abuse that is not their fault. "Child prostitution" is not a thing. Terminology... you cannot be a prostitute as a child.

"But, the biggest thing is that the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) is not set up for British victims of human trafficking. None of the process seems to be geared towards British victims. More British people are being referred than ever, internal trafficking is becoming the majority, but the system isn't set up to help them. The number of police officers who turned round to me and said "We can't refer to you because you can't be trafficked in this country", thinking it has to cross country borders.

"I am angry, but the upset is that there are people out there who have done all the right things, asked for help but are being fobbed off by social services and the police. They're getting NRM referrals and then it's taking years. For me, if those processes had worked I'd have been out years earlier, and the worst point of my trafficking would never have happened."