AFP warn about fast growing online child abuse trend

Child_Exploitation

Australian children as young as eight are being coerced into performing live-streamed sexual acts by online predators, who often record and share the videos on the dark net and sexually extort victims into producing even more graphic content.

The offending, known as 'capping' for capturing, is one of the fastest growing trends of online child sexual abuse and children are being preyed on across all social media and video streaming platforms.

Australian victim identification specialists are seeing an increase in the volume of newly produced videos every week on dark web abuse forums and believe hundreds of thousands of children in Australia and around the world have been tricked or coerced into unwittingly producing sexualised videos.

Many children believe they are interacting with a boy or girl of a similar age and may not realise their intimate act was recorded and circulated online, making them a victim of child sexual exploitation.

In other instances, once an offender has gained one recording from a victim, they will use that to blackmail and threaten them into providing more explicit material, a crime known as sexual extortion or 'sextortion'.

With offenders using COVID-19 restrictions as an opportunity to find more potential child victims, the AFP's education and prevention program, ThinkUKnow, is today (Saturday 11 September) releasing a new guide to help parents and carers keep their children safe online during lockdowns.

Victim identification specialist Detective Sergeant Svetlana Palmer from the AFP-led Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE), said investigators hope that by highlighting the concerning trend of 'capping', they can encourage children who have become victims to seek help and report the crime.

"We want to stop the stigma of talking about child abuse and shift the shame from the victims to the offenders," Detective Sergeant Palmer said.

"Child victims need to be reassured help is available and by reporting what has happened, they may help us catch an offender and prevent other children being harmed."

She warned that 'cappers' used fear, coercion and manipulation to keep the crime going.

"In addition to the threats and coercion, victims often feel like they have done something wrong and will be punished by parents or carers, or prosecuted by police, if their actions are discovered," Detective Sergeant Palmer said

"If your child is or has been a victim, reassure them that it's not their fault and that there is help available."

"Children and young people are never to blame for being a victim of online child sexual exploitation. The first step of breaking the cycle is telling a trusted adult."

Queensland Police Service victim identification specialist Scott Anderson, a member of Argos embedded at the ACCCE, works in the team that monitors online abuse forums to identify victims and offenders.

He said the team was finding 'cappers' often posed as teenagers or modelling agents to gain the trust of their young victims, who are commonly aged 12 to 15.

The offenders may broadcast a video they have recorded of one teen undressing and engaging in sexual activities, to trick another into believing they are watching it live and then reciprocating, he said.

If questioned about why they are not talking on the video, the offenders claim their microphone is broken and they can only communicate using messaging functions.

"These offenders are highly manipulative and in extreme cases, they have tricked children into undressing and performing sexual acts on camera within 10 minutes of contacting them through a video streaming platform," Mr Anderson said.

The coercion and sextortion used by the offenders to gain additional material can cause significant fear and trauma.

Sometimes the blackmail extends to forcing the child to include other friends or siblings in the sexually explicit behaviour.

Often the offenders publish the material on dark web forums to earn bragging rights within networks of co-offenders who compete with each other.

Cappers also share tips and identifying information about their victims, such as their social media handles, to enable other forum members to target that child for further abuse.

Offenders also hunt in packs, with multiple offenders approaching a single victim and vouching for each other so they all gain the child's trust.

A single capper can target dozens of victims in a few hours and produce a high volume of videos in a single night.

Capping is highly targeted, relentless and potentially quite traumatic for victims who may not know where to turn for help.

Mr Anderson said he has investigated cases where children have threatened self-harm after a 'capper' has released a blackmail video to the victim's network of friends and families. Others have been driven to perform heinous sexual and humiliating acts to prevent the release of previous videos. He hopes the increased awareness will prevent another child becoming a victim of online child abuse.

Despite the number of videos circulating online, police say many victims are unwilling to report the abuse and even deny that anything has happened if identified and contacted by law enforcement.

The AFP is urging parents to have regular conversations with their children about their online activities. To help them navigate these conversations, parents can refer to the Covid lockdown: What you need to know to keep your child safe from online child sexual exploitation guide, which is being released today to coincide with the final day of National Child Protection Week 2021.

Developed as part of the AFP's education and prevention program, ThinkUKnow, the guide provides parent with simple steps they can follow to manage risks. It also provides parents with information about what they can do if they think, or know, a child is being exploited online.

Some of the AFP's top tips to keep children safe include having the privacy settings of their social media account set to 'friends only' or 'private' to ensure they are not contacted by someone wanting to do them harm, and turning off any location settings that could show where they go to school or where they live. Parents should also encourage children not to share any personal information with 'friends' they meet online.

The guide can be found on the ThinkUKnow website and the ACCCE website.

The ACCCE is committed to stopping child exploitation and abuse and is at the centre of a collaborative national approach to combatting organised child abuse.

The Centre brings together specialist expertise and skills in a central hub, supporting investigations into child sexual abuse and developing prevention strategies focused on creating a safer online environment.

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 or report online.

If you or someone you know are impacted by child sexual abuse and online exploitation there are support services 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.

Media enquiries

AFP Media: (02) 5126 9297

National Security Hotline

Read the AFP Annual Report 2019-20

The Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation

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