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Law enforcement warn about online child sexual exploitation throughout holiday period and COVID-19 pandemic

Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation > News and Media > Releases > 2020 > Covid-19 Announcement


This is a joint media release between the Australian Federal Police, New South Wales Police Force, Queensland Police Service, Victoria Police and South Australia Police

The protection of children remains a high priority for the Australian Federal Police (AFP), Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE) and state and territory police Australia-wide, with a number of arrests made and new resources available to support families to keep their children safe online this week.

Over the past month the ACCCE Child Protection Triage Unit has received reports from the community about children receiving inappropriate contact from adults online. This contact occurred across a range of social networking, video and image sharing, gaming and instant messaging apps.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the holiday period present a number of online safety challenges for children and young people, such as online grooming, unwanted contact and image based abuse, as they spend more time online with the possibility of limited adult supervision.

This week it was announced that police from around Australia executed 18 search warrants, laid 738 charges and arrested 16 people for a range of online child exploitation related offences. Authorities also removed four Australian children from further harm.

AFP Assistant Commissioner for the ACCCE and Child Protection Operations Lesa Gale said the AFP, ACCCE and state and territory police will continue to work together to keep children safe during COVID-19, including ongoing joint efforts during this time to ensure our children are safe.

“Some may mistakenly think that law enforcement is focussed on other criminal activities during this time. We want to reassure the community that we have bolstered our efforts, sharing of information and enhanced coordination to investigate online child sexual exploitation,” Assistant Commissioner Gale said.

“Law enforcement is seeing an increase in information sharing suggesting offenders will use the current isolation period to exploit and abuse children, including finding more potential victims online.”

“Today, we are launching a national online safety challenge to Australians to help safeguard their families against online exploitation. The ACCCE and the ThinkUKnow program have developed the seven-day challenge along with new online safety home learning resources for parents and carers.”

“Australian law enforcement is doing everything in its power to prevent online child sexual exploitation, but it’s not enough, we need parents and carers to play a lead role in protecting children.”

Prevention is critical in countering the exploitation of children, yet ACCCE research published earlier this year revealed that information seeking and discussion about online children sexual exploitation are generally only taken in response to a specific event.

Our message to online child sex offenders is simple — we are watching and if you offend against children physically or by engaging them online, we will find and charge you to the full force of the law.

Detective Superintendent Mark Wieszyk, South Australia Police’s Public Protection Branch, said many children are spending more time on the computer.

“Accessing their education and communicating with friends remotely, parents are urged to keep a close eye on who their children are communicating with online,” Detective Superintendent Mark Wieszyk said.

Officer in charge of the Victorian Joint Anti Child Exploitation Team (JACET), Acting Inspector Karen Bennett, said it was important that even though many people may feel isolated at the moment, police are still able to receive and act on any reports.

“Children are potentially at further risk due to their isolation from schools, friends and community members who would otherwise been able to assist in mandatory reporting,” Acting Inspector Bennett said.

“However there is still a strong police and law enforcement presence both in terms of being able to take reports from victims or in relation to any criminal activity, as well as investigating these reports.

“We recognise that children do need avenues to be able to report any abuse and we’d reinforce that those reports can also be made via Crime Stoppers (for anonymous reporting).”

Detective Superintendent John Kerlatec from the NSW Police Force Child Abuse and Sex Crimes Squad said while social media apps help young people stay in touch with friends and access educational material, they can also bring them into contact with strangers.

“Any app, online game, or social media platform that allows the user to be in contact with people they do not know can put children at risk,” Detective Superintendent Kerlatec said.

“NSW Police have increased their commitment to targeting those who use the internet to prey on our kids during this time – with specialist officers now working seven-days a week to monitor these activities.

“If children encounter something or someone they are not comfortable with online, we encourage them to speak to a person they trust, who can then let law enforcement agencies know.”

Detective Superintendent Denzil Clark from the Queensland Police Service Child Abuse and Sexual Crimes Group said the new resources are a great way for parents and caregivers to take active and ongoing measures around online safety.

“This is so important in helping us stop, solve and prevent these types of child abuse crimes,” Detective Superintendent Clark said.

Seven day online safety challenge

The challenge involves a daily simple task for parents and carers to complete, to help kick-start their journey in helping protect their children. The tasks include reviewing privacy settings, researching the apps and games their children use and creating an online family safety contract.

To take part in the challenge, visit the www.accce.gov.au and ACCCE on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/ACCCEaus/ and Twitter https://twitter.com/ACCCE_AUS

New ThinkUKnow resources – home learning activity packs

ThinkUKnow has today released home learning activity packs to support parents, carers and children, and address the challenges associated with children spending more time online to provide further support to Australians during this time The activity packs address a range of topics, such as online supervision, unwanted contact and safer online interactions, through real case studies and prevention tips and activities that encourage open discussion. To get the activity packs visit: https://www.thinkuknow.org.au/for-parents-and-carers

ThinkUKnow is a partnership between the Australian Federal Police, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Datacom, and Microsoft, and is delivered in collaboration with state and territory police and Neighbourhood Watch Australasia.

For more information and access to tools, resources and advice, as well as reporting and support services, please visit, thinkuknow.org.au, accce.gov.au and esafety.gov.au.

Note to media:

USE OF TERMS ‘CHILD ABUSE’, NOT ‘CHILD PORNOGRAPHY’

Use of the phrase “child pornography” 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 captures an actual situation where a child has been abused. This is not “pornography”.

USE OF ‘ONLINE CHILD SEX OFFENDER’, NOT ‘PAEDOPHILE/PEDOPHILE’, ‘PREDATOR’ OR ‘MOLESTER’

Pedophilic Disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders V (DSM V) is classified as sexual interest in prepubescent children. Some victims of online grooming are not prepubescent, nor is having the disorder a criminal offence, unless it is criminally acted upon.

For online grooming offenders/offences use “online child sex offender” and avoid emotive terms such as predator and molester.

Media enquiries:

AFP National Media: 02 5126 9297

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