Working together to counter online child exploitation
Commander ACCCE Hilda Sirec
Foreword from Commander ACCCE Hilda Sirec
It gives me great pleasure to bring you the first edition of the ACCCE newsletter for 2021, which also happens to be my first as Commander ACCCE, Child Protection Operations and Human Trafficking.
We are off to an incredible start to the year and have already seen some significant achievements both within the ACCCE and broader child protection sector. The theme for this edition, ‘women in child protection’, will come as no surprise and is particularly relevant in light of International Women’s Day celebrated earlier this month.
As highlighted in our article for International Women’s Day, we are fortunate to have a talented and passionate female workforce that bring immense value in our efforts to eradicate the prevalence of online child sexual exploitation. I would like to acknowledge two outstanding members, Rachel Hampshire and Nic Watkins on their appointment to Detective as well as Federal Agents Leisa James and Leanne Cooper of the Child Protection Triage Unit for their ongoing high performance and dedication to their roles.
This great work extends through to operational endeavours, including Operation Arkstone and Molto . The Western Australian Joint Anti Child Exploitation Teams (JACETs) marked their first conviction for Operation Arkstone with a 30-year-old Perth man sentenced with possessing and sharing child abuse material.
In support of the JACETs across Australia, AFP Child Protection Operations (CPO) and the ACCCE recently developed a series of Support Brochures to use when engaging with the community. I hope that the teams find this to be a useful asset going forward to support their frontline investigations.
Following the introduction of the Surveillance Legislation Amendment (Identify and Disrupt) Bill 2020 (SLAID Bill) in December 2020, a public hearing was held on 10 March with the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security identifying gaps and a need for updates to the legislation. These updates will enable the AFP to more effectively address the challenges posed by criminal’s use of the Dark Web and anonymising technology.
March also saw the launch of one of the ACCCE’s most significant collaborative efforts yet. The ‘Stop Child Abuse – Trace an Object’ initiative calls on the community to help identify objects extracted from the background of child sexual abuse images and videos in the hope of removing children from harm and pursuing offenders. I encourage you all to support this important initiative by following the ACCCE on Facebook and Twitter or visiting the webpage accce.gov.au/trace
This past Saturday I was joined by members of the AFP and ACCCE in attending the 16th annual Dance for Daniel, hosted by the Daniel Morcombe Foundation. It was a great evening raising much needed funds and celebrating the legacy of Daniel Morcombe.
I hope you enjoy this jam-packed edition and I look forward to a productive 2021 ahead.
Commander ACCCE Hilda Sirec
Women of the ACCCE show their support and solidarity for equality
International Women's Day 2021
Celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, International Women’s Day 2021 centred on the theme ‘Choose to Challenge’. This theme highlights the need for individual’s to take responsibility for their thoughts and actions, at all times, with the view to working collaboratively to create an inclusive world.
It is with this same spirit that the ACCCE was founded and operates on a daily basis. The organisation is privileged to have a large cohort of inspiring women, both sworn and unsworn, leading and working in child protection.
Members across the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and ACCCE came together to celebrate at events held across Australia. This was bolstered by the AFP Commissioner’s announcement of a renewed gender diversity target for the AFP – by 2028, the sworn workforce will be made up of at least 30 per cent women. The Commissioner also announced Assistant Commissioner Justine Gough as the AFP’s new Champion for Women.
Another key highlight of the day was 2021 Australian of the Year Grace Tame’s appearance at an International Women’s Day event, encouraging all Australians to take up the challenge to lead and choose change.
“People are sometimes deterred from action, or doubt the value of their contribution in change.
“But I like to think of it as a domino, because there’s a whole set of dominos waiting to be pushed over. Just be that one domino. Your tiny little contribution has enormous catalytic potential.”
This message is particularly relevant at this time of change and especially important for those working in child protection.
Laura Smith and Jonas Seider of the ACCCE Victim Identification Unit
Minister for Home Affairs The Hon Peter Dutton MP launches the initiative
Nine objects have been released as part of the launch
The smallest clue can often help solve a case
**TRIGGER WARNING: The following content contains images that some people may find distressing.**
On 3 March, the ACCCE launched an Australian-first initiative, ‘Stop Child Abuse – Trace an Object’.
First introduced by Europol in 2017, the initiative seeks the help of the community to identify objects extracted from the background of child sexual abuse images and videos suspected to be produced within the Asia Pacific region. Images only contain the specific object, all other imagery is removed.
Spearheaded by the ACCCE Victim Identification Unit, the launch of the initiative included the release of nine images to the public in the hope of generating new leads for cases that would otherwise have stalled.
If a member of the community successfully identifies the origin of an object, they are encouraged to provide details to the ACCCE who will work with relevant law enforcement authorities to investigate the lead.
Victim identification involves the detailed analysis of images and videos to locate and remove children from harm. Online child sexual exploitation is one of the few areas of criminal investigation where victim identification experts start with the evidence and work their way back to locate the crime scene.
Laura Smith of the ACCCE Victim Identification Unit has worked in the field for several years and regularly collaborates with colleagues nationally and internationally.
“We work with international and national law enforcement to identify victims of child sexual abuse and make sure that they’re safe from harm.
“The ACCCE Victim Identification Unit is part of a larger victim identification community across the world, we work together on a daily basis collaboratively to identify offenders and rescue victims from harm”.
It is based on this approach that ‘Stop Child Abuse – Trace an Object’ was developed. As AFP Assistant Commissioner Lesa Gale reiterated,
“We need every member of the community to be our eyes and ears to help police save victims and arrest perpetrators.
“No clue is too small. A small tip could be the information we need to rescue a child from significant harm.”
After only two weeks of being launched the Australian ‘Stop Child Abuse – Trace an Object’ initiative has resulted in more than 29,000 views of the webpage, more than 350 reports and several investigative leads that will be followed up directly within Australia.
This is only the start, the ACCCE still needs your help.
The Support Brochures provide localised counselling and support services for both families and individuals affected by child sexual exploitation
Child protection operational support brochures
AFP Child Protection Operations (CPO) and ACCCE recently developed a suite of Support Brochures for the Joint Anti Child Exploitation Teams (JACETs) and AFP CPO Teams to use when engaging with the community.
The Support Brochures are jurisdictionally tailored to support members of the community affected by child sexual exploitation and specifically for individuals whom AFP members have contact with throughout the course of child sexual exploitation investigations. They contain a list of support services that are available to provide information, advice, support and counselling.
Distributed to all AFP CPO Teams and JACETs, the Support Brochures will ensure members are equipped with the most current information to provide to victims, families and individuals when faced with a distressing situation.
Commander ACCCE, Child Protection Operations and Human Trafficking Hilda Sirec meets with previous students from University of Queensland
The ACCCE team welcomes two new University of Queensland students
University of Queensland students showcase child protection research
In December 2020, the ACCCE and the University of Queensland (UQ) showcased child exploitation prevention research by Bachelor of Criminology and Criminal Justice Honours program students, Bec Dunne and Rebecca Gavin.
The students undertook their honours thesis research on ‘Risk factors and cognitive distortions in online child sexual exploitation offenders’; and ‘Australian community perceptions of child sex offender interventions’.
Commander ACCCE, Child Protection Operations and Human Trafficking, Hilda Sirec, commended the students, highlighting the importance of partnerships in combatting child sexual exploitation.
“I am thrilled to celebrate the achievements of these two dedicated students and the continued partnership between the ACCCE and UQ.
“Research relating to child sexual exploitation prevention is vital to inform our disruption strategies and initiatives.
“Given the success of this academic pilot program, I am proud to announce that we will welcome two new UQ students to work with the ACCCE again next year.”
The ACCCE has since welcomed two new students who will be working one day a week for the year ahead whilst conducting their research on an ACCCE child protection related subject.
Visit accce.gov.au to see the research summaries from Bec Dunne and Rebecca Gavin.
The Dance for Daniel event brought together key stakeholders from across the child protection sector
Dance for Daniel
On Saturday 20 March 2021, members of the AFP and ACCCE were proud to attend the 16th annual Dance for Daniel. The event, held at Brisbane City Hall, raises much needed funds for the Daniel Morcombe Foundation to continue creating free child safety resources and providing counselling for young victims of crime.
Also attended by Premier of Queensland The Hon Annastacia Palaszczuk MP, Minister for Home Affairs The Hon Peter Dutton MP and Queensland Police Service Commissioner Katarina Carroll APM, Dance for Daniel highlights the importance of working collaboratively to achieve the best outcomes in protecting children from abuse and harm.
New resources from eSafety Commissioner
eSafety Engage resources
The eSafety Commissioner recently released a series of resources to actively engage school communities in creating and maintaining safe online environments.
The Engage resources include tools for teachers and schools to incorporate the voices of their students in online safety programs, policies and practices by collecting information about their online safety knowledge and learning experiences.
This takes the form of a survey and can provide teachers with a unique student perspective. As we all strive to set boundaries and educate our children and broader community about the pressures, dangers and opportunities of being online, it’s important that we place ourselves in the shoes of children and young people to understand the complexities of what they face.
Only then can gaps in knowledge and skills be identified and the capabilities and confidence of all school community members be strengthened.
The tools can be used on their own or collectively and accessed on the eSafety website along with other useful information.
Collaboration continues in building technology for change
The ‘KATALYST Project – Technology for Change’, recently received a project grant from the End Violence Against Children fund. The project seeks to create technological solutions for countries who are experiencing access barriers, working with other international partners to combat crimes against children. The project is being led by Project VIC International (USA), support by Kindred Tech, a Pathfinder Labs NZ initiative, taking up the role of ‘Technical Lead’.
The project is currently working with Kerala Cyber Dome, India, seeking to remove technical barriers and promoting international collaboration. The establishment of these projects shows the importance on interconnectivity between like-minded partners working together internationally to keep children safe online.
Since 1991, Child Wise has been supporting public, private and not-for-profit organisations to build environments which keep children safe. Throughout this time, they have met with victim survivors of child abuse and their loved ones, and heard them when they say resoundingly that prevention of abuse is of the utmost importance.
Child Wise continues to diversify the many ways it works to prevent abuse and has recently partnered with NetClean. Together the two organisations will work with corporate Australia to implement the ProActive technology in their technical environments – proactively detecting child sexual abuse material (CSAM) on work computers.
In their annual report for 2019, NetClean drew upon representatives of Law Enforcement Agencies (LEA) across 41 countries in relation to identifying emerging trends, challenges, and opportunities for law enforcement on a global scale in relation to this crime type. NetClean’s annual report notes that:
Emerging technologies including cloud storage, utilising social media, and end-to-end encryption have the capability to circumvent traditional corporate filtering solutions
There is a growing role for Artificial Intelligence to play in relation to identifying victims and classifying CSAM, as a tool for LEAs
Live-streamed CSAM is growing at an alarming rate, and is often a problem that originates in our own backyard
Children are increasingly vulnerable to exploitation as technology moves faster than prevention strategies
Intelligence product development
Over the past three months, members of the ACCCE Intelligence Fusion Cell, ACCCE Prevention and Engagement and Northern Command CPO have undertaken a Strategic Mentorship, Training and Development Course under the guidance of Janet Evans of Evans Consulting.
The course provided participants with a strategic intelligence development opportunity as well as allowing members to conduct analysis on problems and issues considered critical to the ACCCE and the AFP. The participants created strategic work that has an immediate impact, and learnt skills to get out of the familiar cycle of responding only to rapid-fire problems, by combining strategic mentorship with strategic training and development.
The final day provided participants with the opportunity to present their findings to senior management, allowing our leaders to feel assured in their complex and critical decision-making processes.
This significant body of work will enable the ACCCE Intelligence Fusion Cell in the coming weeks to release six, high quality intelligence assessments for dissemination to state, territory, commonwealth and international law enforcement and partners.
Face of the ACCCE: Cassie Hetherington
The ‘Face of the ACCCE’ introduces you to the ACCCE team; their roles, responsibilities and personalities!
Cassie Hetherington of the ACCCE Covert Online Engagement Unit
We spoke to Cassie...
Tell us about your role in the ACCCE?
I am seconded from the Investigations Unit within the Australian Border Force. My role within the ACCCE integrates the ABF into the Centre and directly contributes to the whole of government approach to combatting child exploitation.
I am really fortunate to be a part of an amazing team here at the ACCCE. I’m attached to the Covert Online Engagement Unit and we undertake proactive long-term covert operations targeting online child abuse syndicates. The operational specifics of what we do and how we do it are closely held secrets, but the team are very effective at what they do and I’m proud to be a part of that.
I also support the ABF functions through my work in the dark web and through linking the ABF to the broader ACCCE collaborative networks. I’m now part of a global network of specialists that are all working in unison to combat crimes against children.
What are you most proud of in your career to date?
I’ve been lucky enough to be a guest speaker at the Youth Technologies and Virtual Communities Conference twice and also the key note speaker at a regional Queensland Police Child Protection Week Gala Dinner. These have been great experiences which allowed me to promote the work we do to a global audience.
What would you like to achieve in the next 12 months within ACCCE?
The Covert Online Engagement Unit is dealing with new technology and innovative practices every day. We are constantly striving to develop new methodologies within this crime type and the work is different every day. Until I was a member of this team, I could not have imagined I would be doing this type of work and be contributing to such an important role. My priority is to continue to develop my skills and support the ABF in having a meaningful presence in the ACCCE.
If you could invite one person to work at the ACCCE who would it be?
Dr Michael Bourke, Chief Psychologist for the United States Marshals Service and head of the Behavioural Analysis Unit. Dr Bourke is a brilliant expert on child sex offenders and it would be amazing to have him here in Australia and working at the ACCCE.
Favourite song, book or movie—and why?
I just finished reading ‘The Happiest Man on Earth’ by Eddie Jaku – it was a truly inspiring book about hardships and finding light in a vast amount of darkness.
Words of advice for people concerned about online child exploitation?
Please have a conversation with your kids about online safety. Make your home a safe place where they can tell you if they have made a mistake online so you can report it to Police before it escalates. Kids who are scared to tell their parents of their mistakes or the children who don’t have that open communication with their parents are the ones that get hurt by these offenders the most.