Police in Chicago are investigating after a 15 year old girl was alleged to have been sexually assaulted and video footage of the attack was streamed live on Facebook.
The girl, who had been missing, has since been found, treated in hospital and reunited with her family. The attack was reported to police by the girl’s mother.
Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson is quoted saying: “The young men responsible, they should be ashamed of themselves… Now they are going to be held accountable.”
County Cook prosecutors claim the girl was lured to a basement and threatened with a dog during the attack. Two suspects have been charged so far, both boys, aged 14 and 15 years old. Police are still trying to identify others suspected of taking part in the assault, and stated at the weekend that they thought at least one adult was involved.
The video has since been removed but is thought to have been watched by as many as 40 people, none of whom reported it to the police at the time according to authorities.
The attack is thought to be the fourth crime caught on Facebook Live in Chicago since the end of October. A Chicago police spokesperson said that Facebook has told authorities it’s not possible to identify who is watching a video on the platform.
It is difficult to ascertain whether or not any charges could be brought against anyone who had viewed the video. A law professor has been quoted as saying it isn’t illegal to watch such a video or to not report it to the police, and that child pornography charges wouldn’t apply unless viewers were downloading the video.
A statement from Facebook provided to the BBC states, “Crimes like this are hideous and we do not allow that kind of content on Facebook… We take our responsibility to keep people safe on Facebook very seriously and will remove videos that depict sexual assault and are shared to glorify violence.”
The incident raises further questions about the culpability of online ‘bystanders’ or ‘voyeurs’ of video content depicting criminal assaults. There is more work to be done to explore how police, legislators and technology companies might be able to work together to tackle the filming, broadcasting and viewing of live offences over the Internet, which compounds the trauma victims experience in such cases.