*Editor's note: An arrest image and footage is available via Hightail.
A 19-year-old Adelaide man was arrested by the South Australia Joint Anti Child Exploitation Team (SA JACET) at a train station yesterday (Thursday, 27 August 2020), where he was allegedly waiting to meet a 14-year-old girl he had groomed online.
The man is expected to face Adelaide Magistrate's Court today (Friday, 28 August) where police will allege the man believed he had been speaking online to a 14-year-old girl since July, but it was actually a covert police officer posing as a child.
Australian Federal Police Detective Acting Superintendent Gavin Stone said the conversations allegedly became sexual in nature and the 19-year-old kept requesting to meet in person. He allegedly asked the girl to wear a short skirt and no underwear.
Investigators from SA JACET – comprising of officers from the AFP and South Australia Police – intercepted and arrested the man soon after he arrived at the train station for the planned meeting.
Police will allege the man tried to resist arrest.
A search warrant was also executed at the man's home in a northern Adelaide suburb.
Police have seized electronic devices which they allege contain child abuse material and the man has been charged with:
- Use a carriage service to procure a person under the age of 16 to engage in or submit to sexual activity, contrary to section 474.26(1) of the Criminal Code 1995 (Cth);
- Obstruction of a Commonwealth Public Official, contrary to section 149.1 of the Criminal Code 1995 (Cth);
- Possessing child abuse material obtained or accessed using a carriage service, contrary to section 474.22A of the Criminal Code 1995 (Cth).
The potential maximum penalties for these offences range from two years to fifteen years.
SA JACET began investigating the man's alleged online activities in May 2019, after the AFP received a tip from the United States' Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
The FBI reported that a person in Australia was having an online sexual relationship with a 13-year-old girl in the United States via social media platforms. The Adelaide man was identified by Australian investigators as the person suspected of using the account.
A SA JACET Covert Online Operative posed as a girl and police allege the man was soon chatting to her through social media.
JACET investigators questioned him about his alleged contact with the girl in the United States but no evidence was found to support a prosecution.
In February 2020, the AFP- led Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE) received a report from the United States' National Center for Missing and Exploited Children about an Australian allegedly uploading child abuse material to social media.
The ACCCE identified the 19-year-old as the person uploading the abhorrent image.
In July, the man allegedly started communicating with who he thought was a 14-year-old girl, and allegedly organised to meet her this week.
AFP Detective Acting Superintendent Stone said it was fortunate on this occasion that an Adelaide child had not been on their way to meet an adult who was planning to abuse them.
"This arrest is also a warning to any adult who wants to prey on children online – you may not be talking to a vulnerable child; you could be talking to a police officer. The AFP and SA Police work closely together, and with our partners overseas, and have a range of skills and tactics to expose you and bring you to justice."
South Australia Police Detective Superintendent Mark Wieszyk, officer in charge of the Public Protection Branch, said the JACET partnership between the South Australia Police and the AFP has been in operation since 2015.
"Since this time they have worked tirelessly at apprehending persons that prey on children, as well as identifying victims wherever possible so that they can be rescued from abuse," he said.
"Although demanding, their work is performed diligently knowing that their goal is to recue as many children from harm as possible."
The SA JACET arrested 89 people last financial year (2019-20) for child abuse-related offences, ranging from possessing child abuse material to contact offending.
Fifty-two children, in Australia and overseas, have been saved from harm over that period as a result of the arrests.
AFP ACCCE and Child Protection Superintendent Paula Hudson said children were spending more time than ever online since the COVID-19 outbreak and so were predators – but so were police.
"We want parents and caregivers to understand how their children are being targeted and how predators are abusing technology to try and invite themselves into the bedrooms of our children," Superintendent Hudson said.
"Please learn what sites your children are using online and turn off chat functions if possible.
"Remind children to never meet up with anyone they have only known online or tell those online 'friends' any personal information that could help someone find them.
"Resources such as the ACCCE and ThinkUknow 7 day family online safety challenge helps parents, carers and teachers instil good online behaviour in children and I urge all Australians to be aware of the dangers that face children online.
"Sexual abuse has a devastating impact on children and their families and the AFP, with our partners, are relentless in our efforts to stamp it out.
"Use of encrypted applications or systems will not enable you to stay anonymous – the AFP-led Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation has a range of capabilities and techniques to infiltrate illegal online networks and we have the will to track you down."
Members of the public who have any information about people involved in child abuse and exploitation are urged to call Crime stoppers on 1800 333 000.
You can also make a report online by alerting the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation via the Report Abuse button.
Note to media:
Use of term 'CHILD ABUSE' MATERIAL NOT 'CHILD PORNOGRAPHY'
The correct legal term is Child Abuse Material – the move to this wording was among amendments to Commonwealth legislation in 2019 to more accurately reflect the gravity of the crimes and the harm inflicted on victims.
Use of the phrase "child pornography" is inaccurate and benefits child sex abusers because it:
- indicates legitimacy and compliance on the part of the victim and therefore legality on the part of the abuser; and
- conjures images of children posing in 'provocative' positions, rather than suffering horrific abuse.
Every photograph or video captures an actual situation where a child has been abused.
AFP Media: (02) 5126 9297