Nineteen children removed from harm and two people charged

Nineteen children in NSW have been removed from harm after a man and woman were charged with 66 child sexual abuse-related offences under the Australian Federal Police (AFP)-led Operation Wakatake.

The AFP alleges the man, 52, and woman, 43 – who lived near each other in rural NSW – drugged and filmed some of the children to produce child exploitation material between 2017 and 2020.

Both alleged offenders are remanded in custody and will next appear in Albury Local Court on 28 September 2021. They are facing charges which carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

Eighteen of the 19 alleged victims have been identified, and are aged between six and 17 years old. Investigators have contacted the families of the alleged victims to provide support, while investigations are continuing to identify the 19th alleged victim.

Some of the victims were residents who lived in the female offender’s home and others visited the woman’s home for sleepovers.

The investigation began when the US-based National Center for Missing and Exploited Children alerted the AFP-led Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation in January 2020 about child abuse material being uploaded to an Australian Facebook account.

AFP investigators identified the holder of Facebook account and in July 2020, executed a search warrant at his NSW home, before locating him at work. The man was arrested the same day when investigators identified alleged child abuse material on his mobile phone.

It is alleged that while his mobile phone was being examined, investigators identified a WhatsApp conversation between himself and the alleged female offender.

It is alleged the man asked the woman to provide him with child exploitation material of one the girls who lived in the female offender’s home.

The AFP alleges a large quantity of the child exploitation material was saved on a flash drive and tapped underneath a bedside table in the house the alleged male offender shared with his wife.

Investigations identified the female offender, with an urgent search warrant executed at her home that same day resulting in her arrest. It is alleged a large number of electronic storage devices, including remote-controlled covert video cameras, were seized during the search warrant.

Apprehended Violence Orders were served on the pair, preventing them from having contact with the alleged victims, and mandated reports were made to the NSW Department of Communities and Justice.

The man was initially granted bail on 2 July 2020, but was arrested and charged with further offences on 18 November 2020 when further evidence was obtained.

These offences related to a further 17 victims alleged covertly recorded while showering or using the toilet at the women’s home between 2017 and 2020. It is alleged evidence was also recovered showing the woman administering a sedative to an alleged female victim before sexual acts were performed on her by the man.

AFP Detective Sergeant Jarryd Dunbar thanked international partners for the referral, which concerned the trading of previously-identified images of abuse from other sources. It was only during the subsequent search warrants where meticulous detective work from AFP investigators uncovered the true scope of offending.

Detective Sergeant Dunbar said support was also provided by the NSW Police Force Child Abuse and Sex Crimes Squad, specifically the Murray Child Abuse Unit.

“Our first priority is to always remove alleged child victims from harm,’’ Detective Sergeant Dunbar said.

“Child sexual abuse is an insidious crime and the breach of trust allegedly committed by the adults – who should be protecting them from these offences – is repugnant and concerning.

“We will continue to support the children allegedly targeted by the pair. I also want to thank their parents, who have worked with the AFP during a very traumatic time.”

Detective Sergeant Dunbar said it often shocked the community when women were allegedly committing child sexual abuse-related offences.

“There is no one profile of a child sex offender. They are men, women; and of all ages and professions,’’ he said.

“The best form of protection for our kids is knowing where they are, who they are engaging with online and in the real world, and knowing what really happens under someone’s roof.

“When children sleepover at another person’s house, we encourage parents to ask who else will be in the home, and to talk to their children about their sleepover when they come home.”

The man has been charged with:

  • 23 counts of use child under 14 years to make child abuse material, contrary to section 91G(1)(a) of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) – 14 years’ imprisonment;
  • Four counts of commit act of indecency, contrary to section 61O(2)(a) of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) – 7 years’ imprisonment;
  • One count of sexual intercourse with child under 10 years of age, contrary to section 66A(1) of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) – life imprisonment;
  • One count of bestiality, contrary to section 79 of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) – 14 years imprisonment;
  • One count of indecent assault person under 16 years of age, contrary to section 61M(2) of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) – 10 years imprisonment;
  • One count of aggravated indecent assault person under 16 years of age, contrary to section 61M(2) of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) – 10 years’ imprisonment;
  • One count of commit act of indecency toward person under 16 years, use for production of child abuse material, contrary to section 610(2A) of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) – 16 years’ imprisonment;
  • One count of use intoxicating substance to commit an indictable offence , contrary to section 38(a) of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) – 25 years’ imprisonment;
  • One count of possess child abuse material, contrary to section 91H of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) – 10 years’ imprisonment;
  • Two counts of use of a carriage service to send indecent material to person less than 16 years, contrary to section 474.27A(1) of the Criminal Code (Cth) – 10 years’ imprisonment; and
  • One count of use carriage service to transmit child abuse material, contrary to section 22(1) of the Criminal Code (Cth) – 15 years’ imprisonment.

The woman has been charged with:

  • 18 counts of use child under 14 years to make child abuse material, contrary to section 91G(1)(a) of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) – 14 years’ imprisonment;
  • Five counts of commit act of indecency towards child under 10 years of age, contrary to section 61O(2)(a) of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) – 7 years’ imprisonment;
  • One count of indecent assault person under 16 years of age, contrary to section 61M(2) of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) – 10 years’ imprisonment;
  • One count of sexual intercourse with child under 10 years of age, contrary to section 66A(1) of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) – life imprisonment;
  • One count of bestiality, contrary to section 79 of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) – 14 years’ imprisonment;
  • One count of use of intoxicating substance to commit an indictable offence , contrary to section 38(a) of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) – 25 years’ imprisonment;
  • One count of possess child abuse material, contrary to section 91H of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) – 10 years’ imprisonment; and
  • One count of use of carriage service to transmit child abuse material, contrary to section 22(1) of the Criminal Code (Cth) – 15 years’ imprisonment.

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