Nationwide Operation Molto closes with the removal of 51 children from harm in Australia

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More than 100 Australians have been charged with over 1000 child abuse-related offences under a global operation, which has now been finalised.

Operation Molto, coordinated by the AFP-led Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE), working together with police from every state and territory in Australia, removed 51 children from harm after identifying alleged offenders across the country.

The operation started in 2019, when the ACCCE received intelligence from New Zealand Te Tari Taiwhenua Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) showing thousands of offenders were using a cloud storage platform to share abhorrent child material abuse online.

Known globally as Operation H, the multinational law enforcement effort has resulted in 153 children being removed from harm, including; 79 in the United Kingdom, 51 children in Australia, 12 in Canada, six in New Zealand, four in the United States and one child in Europe. Operation H has now been finalised.

In Australia, some of the alleged offenders, who are also accused of producing their own child abuse material online, were in possession of material that was produced by a man arrested by the AFP in 2015 under Operation Niro, which resulted in the dismantling of an international organised pedophile syndicate. The material was classified as the most abhorrent produced.

Police from every state and territory in Australia executed 158 search warrants in Australia, charging 121 men with 1248 charges and removing 51 children from harm.

AFP Assistant Commissioner Lesa Gale said the hard-work, diligence and co-operation of police across every state and territory should be recognised.

"The work of police across Australia in rescuing these children shows that victims remain front of mind for law enforcement,'' Assistant Commissioner Gale said.

"Viewing, distributing or producing child abuse material is a horrific crime. Children are not commodities and the AFP and its partner agencies work around-the-clock to identify and prosecute offenders.

"The success of Operation Molto demonstrates the importance of partnerships for law enforcement, at a national level here in Australia, but also at an international level, with our colleagues in New Zealand and around the world."

Tim Houston, Manager Digital Child Exploitation Team for DIA in New Zealand, said the operation, and the prosecutions that would follow, represented a major success in international efforts to dismantle networks that sort to exploit children.

"I commend the ongoing support of our law enforcement partners domestically and across the world for their dedication and hard-work. This operation will have an impact on the global networks that deal in the most horrific and damaging material, and we are extraordinarily proud of the effect it will have on children's lives around the world," he said.

Commander of New South Wales Police Force State Crime Command's Child Abuse and Sex Crimes Squad, Detective Superintendent Jayne Doherty, praised the results of Operation Molto.

"This shows what can be achieved when all agencies work together for a good cause – and there's no better cause than protecting our children," said Detective Superintendent Doherty.

"The NSWPF is proud to play a part in such a positive outcome and will continue to work with our partners, domestically and internationally, to ensure our kids grow up in a safe environment."

Victoria Police Cybercrime Division Detective Superintendent Jane Welsh said the number one priority was the rescue and recovery of children from any further harm.

"These types of investigations absolutely remain a priority for police, and on this occasion, to have removed eight children from further harm is extremely satisfying," Detective Superintendent Welsh said.

"Victoria Police will continue to work closely with our law enforcement partners across Australia and internationally to actively target online predators and to protect children.

"I would urge parents to be vigilant and to proactively have conversations with your children about online safety. Children can be groomed in a matter of minutes – 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."

 Queensland Police Service Crime and Intelligence Command Acting Assistant Commissioner Denzil Clark said: "Queensland Police are committed to working collaboratively with national, interstate, and international counterparts to target those who pose a risk to children in the community".

"These results highlight the tenacity and commitment of the Queensland Police in protecting our community." Acting Assistant Commissioner Clark said.

"The possession of child exploitation material is not a victimless crime. Anyone involved in possessing or sharing these images continues the cycle of victimisation and abuse of the children depicted in this material."

Tasmania Police Detective Inspector Craig Joel said Tasmania Police and the AFP work collaboratively with their interstate and overseas colleagues to target on-line predators and Operation Molto has been a positive outcome in disrupting on-line criminal activity'.

"A conversation about on-line safety with children from an early age is important because studies show that once a child is harmed by an online predator, they will be impacted for life," Detective Inspector Joel said.

The alleged Australian offenders are aged between 18 and 61 years old. Breakdown by state:

  • Queensland - 58 alleged offenders facing 423 charges. 23 children have been removed from harm in that state.
  • Victoria - 18 alleged offenders facing 370 charges. Eight children have been removed from harm in that state.
  • New South Wales - 17 alleged offenders facing 96 offences. Three children have been removed from harm in that state.
  • South Australia - 12 alleged offenders facing 232 charges. Ten children have been removed from harm in that state.
  • Western Australia - eight alleged offenders facing nine charges, with no children having to be removed from harm in that state.
  • Tasmania - three alleged offenders in facing 54 charges. Two children have been removed from harm in that state.
  • Northern Territory - two alleged offenders facing 16 charges, with no children having to be removed from harm in that jurisdiction.
  • ACT - Three alleged offenders facing 48 charges, with five children removed from harm in that jurisdiction.

The alleged offenders were employed in range of occupations, including construction, transport, law enforcement and hospitality.

In Australia, Operation Molto has also received assistance from the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission and AUSTRAC.

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 ACCCE 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.

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

EDITORS NOTE:

Media are reminded of their obligations under s15A of the Children (Criminal Proceedings) Act 1987 (NSW) and s105 of the Children and Young Person (Care and Protection) Act 1998 (NSW).

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

If it doesn't add up, speak up. Call the National Security Hotline - 1800 123 400.

Read the AFP Annual Report 2020-21

Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation - visit website

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