By SAT News Desk
MELBOURNE, 29 June 2020: As a consequence of the COVID-19 crisis online activity has increased leading to massive socializing which has brought increased risk to the safety of children. Police are urging people to be vigilant in this situation.
Detectives from the Victorian Joint Anti Child Exploitation Team (JACET), which is comprised of both Victoria Police and AFP investigators, have seen a marked increase in the sharing of child exploitation material via Peer 2 Peer (P2P) sites, including:
• From Aug 2019 to May 2020 there has been a 34 percent increase in Victorian IP addresses seen sharing Child Abuse Material (CAM) on P2P networks; and
• From Aug 2019 to May 2020 there has been a 99 percent increase in CAM files being shared on P2P networks in Victoria.
Intelligence received from a number of law enforcement agencies also indicates places like the dark web are being inundated with new material being uploaded and shared.
Police are concerned that the increase could include the new production of child abuse material, both in Australia and internationally.
Detective Superintendent Jane Welsh said the safety of children remains a key focus for police.
“The reality is that the increase of online socializing and other activities we are currently experiencing due to the global pandemic provides a greater opportunity for online sexual offending and unwanted contact, particularly for children,” she said.
“There are a number of ways this can happen and all of them are concerned with police.
“We now have adult offenders at home spending more time online who may be actively downloading and sharing child exploitation material.
“Worryingly, they might also have access to vulnerable children which could lead to contact offending or the creation of further material.
“Because children are isolated from a range of adults with mandatory reporting obligations at the moment, it also lessens the opportunity for risky behavior or offending to be identified by those adults and acted upon.
“It’s really important that information about this type of offending is reported to police so that we can take action.”
Other issues linked to adult offenders which are being targeted by JACET investigators include pay per view child abuse material sites and the illegal importation of child sex dolls.
Since 1 March, detectives from the Victorian JACET have commenced a number of investigations, including:
• A male was arrested in March 2020 after Victoria JACET investigators executed a search warrant and seized electronic devices containing images and videos of child abuse material. He was charged with possession of child abuse material and released on bail. The accused was arrested again in April after new electronic evidence revealed contact offending and seven child victims aged between 3-5 years old were identified. Those children rescued from further harm from this accused who received 12 further charges and was remanded into custody awaiting his next court appearance.
• In March 2020, Victoria JACET received a referral from a UK law enforcement agency who was seeking advice about the possible identification of three young males who featured in a video uploaded to a website approximately five years earlier. The UK agency had charged the online predator with possession of child abuse material. Victoria JACET’s victim identification specialists identified all three young males.
• A multi-agency investigation coordinated by the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE) following an investigation by US Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). The site offers downloadable CAM for an average fee of $US83 and is members-only, accessible with an active paid account. HSI investigations identified the server hosting the website in Ukraine. HSI was able to gain access to payment records from the site which detailed transactions relating to Victorian suspects. In late Feb ACCCE referred four targets to Victoria JACET. Two targets have since been arrested and charged with child abuse material offenses by Victoria JACET investigators. The investigation into the further two targets remains ongoing.
Det Supt Welsh said young people are also at risk of being targeted by predators online.
“Inappropriate contact online can come from a range of sources including social networking sites, video and image sharing, gaming and instant messaging apps,” she said.
“We have young people spending a lot more time online, possibly with limited adult supervision.
“They are likely to be distanced from their friends and peers, so being online is a way to keep that connectivity. They might also be making new “friends” online where realistically, they have no idea who that person is.
“However, unfortunately, they could be naïve to some of the risks around these sites and apps and so become a target for predatory offenders.
“Anecdotally, we are seeing a lot of grooming type behavior with adult males contacting young girls online and encouraging them to meet for sexual activity.
“We also see really manipulative behavior from predators where children or young people are targeted by online child sex offenders through different platforms and encouraged to self-produce child exploitation material.
“Victoria Police is working closely with our law enforcement partners across Australia and the world to identify any emerging trends and actively target online predators.
“These types of investigations absolutely remain a priority for police, especially when current intelligence suggests offenders will try and use this period of social isolation to target and exploit vulnerable young people online.”
Police are urging parents and carers to regularly have conversations with their children about online safety and to ensure they are aware of the risks.
They should also monitor their children’s online activity and if required, have access to their child’s device and online accounts so risky behavior can be identified before it escalates.
“Don’t wait until something happens to have these discussions, we really strongly urge parents and carers to be proactive when speaking to young people about online safety and risks,” Det Supt Welsh said.
“It’s so important that everyone understands the warning signs of unwanted contact, how to protect your or your family’s privacy online, and how to report any suspicious activity.
“It’s also crucial that kids feel comfortable approaching you or another trusted adult if something isn’t right, so they can deal with the issue.
“Online child sexual exploitation can also have significant health and wellbeing impacts, so it’s important that victims are well supported.
“Children can be groomed in a matter of minutes – these offenders are often master manipulators – and their operations can be quite sophisticated.
“Finally, if something does happen with your child online then it is essential to collect evidence, whether that is screenshots or photos of the content. After that has been done, we encourage people to block and report on the app, site, or platform where the incident has occurred.”
If you suspect a child is in immediate danger, contact triple zero (000) or your local police.
In April, the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE) launched a seven-day challenge along with new online safety home learning resources for parents and carers.
Further information is available at www.accce.gov.au