27 November 2023, 5:36pm
AFP and US strengthen partnership to combat child abuse
Joint operations, intelligence sharing and harnessing new technologies were key discussions at the first Australia-United States Joint Council on Combatting Online Child Sexual Exploitation (Joint Council) meeting.
The AFP reaffirmed its commitment at the first meeting this month (16 November, 2023) to help combat the unprecedented global increase of online child sexual exploitation and abuse.
The AFP has a long-standing partnership with the US, which has resulted in child victims being removed from harm and alleged abusers arrested in multiple countries through the work of the AFP-led Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE).
AFP Commander Helen Schneider said law enforcement collaboration was vital because technology was being used by criminals to cause harm at an unprecedented rate and scale, and was making investigations more complex.
“The borderless nature of the crime, advances in technology and evolving methodologies means that despite decades of effort, the exploitation of children has expanded across the globe,” Commander Schneider said.
“Along with our Five Eyes partners, we are seeing an increase in illegal activity by cyber criminals and offenders using anonymous platforms and emerging technologies to abuse and exploit our most vulnerable.
“It is common for child sex offenders and their victims to be located in different jurisdictions and countries because criminals exploit technology to prey on victims in multiple locations simultaneously.”
Reports of online child sexual exploitation to the AFP have almost tripled since the ACCCE was launched in 2018.
The ACCCE Child Protection Triage Unit received more than 40,000 reports of online child sexual exploitation in 2022-23, up from 14,000 reports five years ago.
Commander Schneider said the spike reflected increases in the amount of online child sexual abuse identified, but also greater awareness in the Australian community of the issue.
In the past financial year (2022-23), the AFP charged 186 people with 925 child exploitation-related offences.
Authorities warn the proposed widespread implementation of End-to-End Encryption (E2EE) by major technology and social media companies will make it harder to identify illegal communications or data transmitted through those platforms.
Offenders are also exploiting artificial intelligence to manipulate images, increasing the volume of child sexual abuse material available and making it harder for police to identify and protect real child victims.
Commander Schneider said the AFP was working with partners to also harness new technologies to address those challenges and help combat the horrific crime. This includes a project with Monash University to create an ethical artificial intelligence (AI) program to detect child abuse material and triage it for investigators.
She said the AFP’s alliances with US authorities and with other law enforcement agencies around the world were vital to protect children and identify and target high risk child sex offenders.
“Our partnerships cannot be underestimated in reducing the global threat of online child sexual exploitation and the reduction of offending against children,” Commander Schneider said.
Operation Bakis is one matter that highlights the value of the Australian and US partnership. Thirteen Australian children were removed from harm and 19 men arrested and charged after an AFP-led investigation in Australia, which was sparked by intelligence from the FBI.
The Joint Council is chaired by Australian Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus and US Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas.
The Australian members are from the AFP, Attorney-General’s Department (AGD) and eSafety, while the United States members are from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the FBI.
The Joint Council was a commitment made in May 2023 by Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and United States President Joseph Biden.
Members of the public who have information about people involved in child abuse are urged to contact the ACCCE. If you know abuse is happening right now or a child is at risk, call police immediately on 000.
If you or someone you know is impacted by child sexual abuse and online exploitation, support services are available.
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.