Volunteer watchdogs hunt down child predators on livestreaming apps

I-TEAM uncovers disturbing interactions on popular LiveMe app

By Vic Micolucci - I-TEAM reporter, anchor, Jodi Mohrmann - Managing Editor of special projects, Eric Wallace - Senior Producer, I-TEAM

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - At least two Jacksonville-area children have been solicited for sex on a popular app called LiveMe, and a group of dozens of volunteers from multiple countries is battling to make sure more kids aren't taken advantage of.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: The information below is explicit and disturbing.]

The group Sheepdog Bloodhound was founded by the Rev. Paul Irwin, who lives in Canada. He said a few dozen volunteers from the U.S., United Kingdom and Canada scour the LiveMe app looking for suspicious and illegal activity.

And they've found plenty.

So did the I-TEAM when we began investigating LiveMe, which has 20 million users. We discovered live videos showing children and young teens interacting with adults. The kids were asked for personal information and were persuaded to take off their clothes. We even found predators preying on children in Jacksonville and Orange Park.

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We reported what we found to the FBI, including two preteen girls involved in a chat where one of them undressed as viewers egged them on.

“Those youth are undressing on live broadcasts on the internet and showing themselves in what is essentially child pornography,” Irwin said, explaining that his volunteer vigilantes report what they spot to law enforcement, including the FBI and local sheriff's offices.

The I-TEAM found out about Irwin's group from a Clay County detective, who said Sheepdog Bloodhound sent two cases his way.

UNCUT: I-TEAM interview with Clay County deputy on LiveMe

“Some of our most notorious cases, actually, including some recent ones, are from the Jacksonville area,” Irwin said.

He said a girl believed to be only 9 years old was manipulated by adult men all over the world on LiveMe and also other apps. They convinced her to expose herself online for anyone to see. Her father had no idea what was going on until Sheepdog Bloodhound alerted authorities, who took action.

“All of her private anatomy was on the internet and because of the permanency of the Internet, it will always be,” Irwin said.

Tech-savvy predators can fairly easily find out the locations of children using the apps.

“They have sent them things, including adult sex toys by mail through companies like Amazon,” Irwin said. “They have met them in person. There have been both youth and young adults who have been subject to stalking, even murder.”

He said despite the dangers, “we are beyond the ability to shut down things like LiveMe or other livestreaming social media.”

Irwin said he and his volunteers will continue to police the site and flag dangerous interactions. But he said parents need to take initiative, talk with their kids and watch what they’re doing at all times.

On the LiveMe app, it says, "Sexual or violent content is strictly prohibited. All violators will be banned." LiveMe administrators say employees are looking for inappropriate and illegal content. But, based on what the I-TEAM found, it does happen.

Officials with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children said they are aware of livestreaming dangers and try to educate parents and children about the risks.

If you see suspicious activity, you can send tips to NCMEC through its Cyber Tipline about abuse or reach out to local law enforcement. You can also alert Sheepdog Bloodhound on the group's website.

If you're interested in volunteering with the group, you can contact Sheepdog Bloodhoud here.

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