Australian children removed from harm and 19 men charged with child abuse offences
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Nineteen men have been charged and 13 Australian children have been removed from harm under an AFP-coordinated investigation into a sophisticated online child abuse network.
Operation Bakis was a joint investigation with state and territory police that had its origins in the murder of two FBI agents in Florida in 2021.
The AFP-coordinated investigation began in 2022 when the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) provided the AFP-led Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE) with intelligence about Australian members of a peer-to-peer network allegedly sharing child abuse material on the dark web.
Two Australian offenders have been sentenced, with others remaining before the courts.
Most of the alleged Australian offenders, some who are also accused of having produced their own child abuse material to share with other members of the network, were employed in occupations that required a high degree of ICT knowledge.
Members used software to anonymously share files, chat on message boards and access websites within the network.
Network members were able to search for and distribute images and videos of child abuse material and allegedly used encryption and other methods to avoid law enforcement detection.
The AFP-led ACCCE coordinated Operation Bakis in Australia and worked with ACT Policing, New South Wales Police Force, Queensland Police Service, South Australia Police, Tasmania Police and Western Australia Police Force.
The alleged Australian offenders were aged between 32 and 81 years old.
It will be alleged some of the children removed had been directly abused, others were removed as a child safety precaution.
Breakdown by state:
In the ACT, five children have been removed from harm and two alleged offenders are facing 54 charges.
A public servant living in the ACT was sentenced in June 2023 to 14 years and six months’ jail after pleading guilty to 24 charges in the ACT Supreme Court.
In NSW, two children have been removed from harm and five alleged offenders are facing 13 charges.
A call centre operator on the NSW Central Coast was sentenced in June (2023) to five years’ imprisonment after pleading guilty to possessing an estimated 5 terabytes of child abuse material.
In Queensland four children have been removed from harm in that state and five alleged offenders are facing 45 charges.
In South Australia, two children have been removed from harm and five alleged offenders are facing 16 charges.
In Tasmania, one alleged offender is facing five charges.
In Western Australia, one alleged offender is facing five charges.
AFP Commander Helen Schneider said removing children from harm and bringing alleged offenders before the courts was always a priority for law enforcement.
“The success of Operation Bakis was only possible because of the close working relationship between the AFP-led ACCCE and the FBI, and our dedicated personnel who never give up working to identify children who are being sexually assaulted or living with someone who is sharing child abuse material.
"Criminals using encryption and the dark web are a challenge for law enforcement, but Operation Bakis shows that when we work together we can bring alleged offenders before the courts,'' Commander Schneider said.
"Viewing, distributing or producing child abuse material is a horrific crime, and the lengths that these alleged offenders went to in order to avoid detection makes them especially dangerous - the longer they avoid detection the longer they can perpetuate the cycle of abuse.
"The success of Operation Bakis demonstrates the importance of partnerships for law enforcement, at a national level here in Australia, but also at an international level."
FBI Legal Attaché Nitiana Mann said: “We are proud of our longstanding relationship with the Australian Federal Police resulting in 19 Australian men facing criminal prosecution as a result of our collaborative investigation.”
“The complexity and anonymity of these platforms means that no agency or country can fight these threats alone.
“As we continue to build bridges through collaboration and teamwork, we can ensure the good guys win and the bad guys lose.”
ACT Policing, Detective Inspector Stephanie Leonard said: “The strong relationship we have with our colleagues in the FBI and the ACCCE resulted in ACT Policing receiving accurate and comprehensive intelligence.
“We used this to undertake a complex, inter-jurisdictional investigation, resulting in the arrest, prosecution, and incarceration of offenders who may otherwise have escaped detection. The ACT community is undoubtedly safer as a result of this operation.”
Detective Superintendent Linda Howlett from the NSWPF said State Crime Command’s Child Abuse Squad detectives never stop in their pursuit of those who target our community’s most vulnerable.
“If you choose to offend against children, it is only a matter of time before police come knocking on your door,” Det Supt Howlett said.
“Together with our law enforcement counterparts, we will continue to use every power available to us to put those targeting children behind bars.”
Queensland Police Service Child Abuse and Sexual Crime Group Acting Detective Superintendent Glen Donaldson said Argos continues to relentlessly target predators who exploit technology in their heinous crimes against children.
“These arrests are a testament to the commitment of QPS and law enforcement agencies globally, to work together to put alleged perpetrators before court and rescue any children in harm’s way,” Det Acting Supt Donaldson said.
“Everything you do online leaves a trace. To those predators who seek to exploit children online, remember the next person you engage with online could be a police officer.”
South Australia Police Assistant Commissioner John Venditto said: “Through collaboration with international and national agencies, South Australia Police has been able to identify children at risk and taken positive action including charging suspected offenders for serious child sexual abuse matters.”
Tasmania Police Assistant Commissioner Robert Blackwood said: “We know in order to successfully identify, investigate and prosecute child sex offenders, that we must work together with our partner law enforcement agencies.”
“The enhanced Tasmanian Joint Anti Child Exploitation Team as part of our new Tasmania Police Family and Sexual Violence Command means we have more capability and specialist investigators to achieve the best possible outcomes for our community, particularly young people.
“We will continue to fight child sexual exploitation and bring those who commit these offences before the court.”
The AFP and its partners are committed to stopping child exploitation and abuse and the ACCCE is driving a collaborative national approach to combatting child abuse.
The ACCCE brings together specialist expertise and skills in a central hub, supporting investigations into online child sexual exploitation and developing prevention strategies focused on creating a safer online environment.
Members of the public who have information about people involved in child abuse are urged to contact the ACCCE at www.accce.gov.au/report. 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 at www.accce.gov.au/support.
Research conducted by the ACCCE in 2020 revealed only about half of parents talked to their children about online safety. Advice and support for parents and carers about how they can help protect children online can be found at www.thinkuknow.org.au, an AFP-led education program designed to prevent online child sexual exploitation.
For more information on the role of the ACCCE, what is online child sexual exploitation and how to report it visit www.accce.gov.au.
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