Fourteen children rescued in the Philippines following Australian child sexual abuse investigations

Editor’s note: Images of the rescue and arrest can be downloaded from Hightail.

Fourteen children, aged between two and 17, have been rescued from alleged child sexual abuse in the Philippines following investigations by the Australian Federal Police (AFP).

The children, six girls and eight boys, were removed from harm on 7 May after the AFP International Command Philippines provided intelligence to the Philippine Internet Crimes Against Children Centre (PICACC) and engaged Philippine National Police.

The information also led the Philippine National Police Luzon Field Unit (LFU), with support from PICACC, to arrest three women and a man in Bombom, Camarines Sur, for their alleged roles as facilitators of online child sexual abuse.

Investigators from the Victorian Joint Anti-Child Exploitation Team (JACET), comprising AFP and Victoria Police, referred information to the AFP International Command in the Philippines after charging a then 68-year-old man from regional Victoria in March with possession of child abuse material, who then engaged Philippines Authorities.

The maximum penalty for the offence is 15 years' imprisonment.

The linked investigations across two countries highlight the enhanced cooperation between the AFP and its partner agencies in Australia and globally to fight online sexual exploitation.

A computer seized from the man contained child abuse material and records of online chat conversations allegedly facilitating 'pay-per-view' child abuse content in the Philippines, police have alleged in court in Victoria.

Among the evidence seized by Philippines authorities last week were digital devices containing several child sexual exploitation materials; a sex toy; and several money transfer receipts showing foreigners as senders.

The child victims have been placed in the care of a local social welfare office.

AFP Commander Todd Hunter, Commander Investigations Southern Command, said the AFP’s expertise stands ready to protect children, regardless of where they may be located.

“Our investigators are dedicated to protecting children in Australia from abuse and work with law enforcement across the world to do the same,” Commander Hunter said.

“Our message to offenders accessing or exchanging child abuse material online is that we will never stop trying to identify anyone involved in bringing harm to children and bringing them before the court.”

Philippine National Police Chief of the Women and Children Protection Centre Brigadier General Alessandro Abella said Philippines police were committed to collaborating with international law enforcement agencies to bring this borderless crime to an end.

“Our pursuit to rescue and protect children from online sexual exploitation will not stop until we have arrested the last trafficker and abuser doing this vile crime,” he said.

The investigation into the 68-year-old Australian man was linked to an earlier Victorian JACET arrest of a man charged by the AFP for allegedly paying for live-distance child abuse.

Police traced the initial arrest to the Philippines, which led to the rescue of nine children, aged two to 16, and the arrest of a woman by Philippine authorities.

As of 10 May 2021, and since its inception in February 2019, the PICACC has undertaken 119 operations which have resulted in the rescue of 386 victims, 88 suspects/facilitators charged and 13 offenders convicted.

Of these, 39 suspects arrested/charged and the rescue of 149 victims in the Philippines are a direct result of AFP International Command facilitating referrals emanating from Australian based investigations or intelligence leads.

PICAAC is a collective law enforcement effort to combat child exploitation across the Philippines, including representatives from the Philippines, Australia, and the United Kingdom.

It involves the AFP, PNP Women and Children’s Protection Centre, National Bureau of Investigation Anti-Human Trafficking Division (NBI AHTRAD), the United Kingdom National Crime Agency (UK NCA), and International Justice Mission (IJM).

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.

You can also make a report online by alerting the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation via the Report Abuse button.

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.

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Read the AFP Annual Report 2021-22

Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation - visit website

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