Predators exploiting kids online during virus second wave

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) is warning parents to be vigilant in keeping their kids safe online amid the return to remote learning in metropolitan Melbourne and a surge in online child exploitation reports.

Parents sit on the front line, alongside police, in ensuring kids don’t fall victim to insidious online predators.

In March 2020, as Australia entered its initial lockdown period, our officers saw sites hosting online child sexual abuse material crashing due to the increased volume of traffic.

Such COVID-19 child abuse forums have grown to more than 1,000 members who are sharing hundreds of videos and images and discussing their tendencies toward the abuse of children.

From 1 July 2019 to 30 June 2020, the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE) Child Protection Triage Unit received 21, 688 incoming reports of child exploitation. This compares to 14,165 reports received from the previous financial year.

Data also suggests the amount of child abuse material shared on the Dark Net between February and March doubled from the same period last year.

AFP Commander Jamie Strauss said the AFP has seen children groomed, and then blackmailed to produce more and more extreme material with the fear that if they don’t do it, it will be shared.

“We suspect that offenders will use this second wave of COVID-19 as an opportunity to find more potential child victims, as young people spend an increasing amount of time online with limited adult supervision.”

“Between 1 July 2019 and 30 May 2020, 144 people have been arrested/summonsed by the AFP with Commonwealth Child Exploitation offences with 1078 charges laid. This compares to 74 arrests/summons and 372 charges laid for the previous financial year. Our message to online offenders has not changed ¬ if you procure, access and transmit child abuse material, you will be found, arrested and prosecuted,” said Commander Strauss.

The most important thing families and carers can do is to start the conversation about online safety with children from an early age and to continue talking with them regularly throughout all stages of their lives.

By the time law enforcement is called in to remove a child from harm or bring an offender to justice, it’s already too late. A child has been severely impacted, for life.

According to research commissioned by the ACCCE, only 52 per cent of parents or carers talk to their children about online safety.

Key things parents and carers can do:

  • Know what your children are doing and who they are interacting with online.
  • Start using smart usernames and passphrases.
  • Check the privacy settings on your family’s social media and online accounts.
  • Research the apps your family uses.
  • Supervision for young children is critical in preventing self-produced child exploitation material and online grooming.
  • Make sure your child feels comfortable talking to you or another trusted adult about issues they might be experiencing online.
  • Consider establishing a Family Online Safety Contract. Developed by ThinkUKnow and The Carly Ryan Foundation, it has been designed to help parents and carers start online safety discussions with their children. A copy is available at www.thinkuknow.org.au

IMPORTANT

If you believe a child is in imminent danger, call police Triple Zero (000) or visit your local police station.

If your child is experiencing issues online, it is essential to collect evidence - taking screenshots or photos of the content. Once you have collected your evidence, block and report on the app, site or platform where the issue occurred.

Online child sexual exploitation can be reported to the ACCCE at https://www.accce.gov.au/report Note to media:

USE OF TERM 'CHILD ABUSE' MATERIAL, NOT 'CHILD PORNOGRAPHY'

Use of the phrase "child pornography" 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 captures an actual situation where a child has been abused. This is not "pornography".

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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