SA man jailed for sexually abusing young girls on trips to South-East Asia

Child_Exploitation

Editor's note: photographs available via Hightail

An Adelaide man who sexually abused several young girls in Cambodia and kept a collection of child abuse material has been sentenced to nine years and six months' imprisonment by the Adelaide District Court this week (Friday, 17 September 2021).

The 47-year-old had pleaded guilty last year (2020) to 12 offences after an extensive investigation by the South Australia Joint Anti Child Exploitation Team (SA JACET), which included comparing his features to those of a man abusing girls in graphic videos posted online.

The SA JACET launched an investigation in early 2019 after information was received from Queensland Police about comments on a child abuse website that were suspected to have been posted by someone in South Australia.

The comments included a desire for photographs of Asian girls aged eight to 12 and police inquiries linked the internet subscription details to the Adelaide man.

Officers from SA JACET, which comprises Australian Federal Police and South Australia Police, arrested the man in May 2019 after they executed a search warrant at his home and found a USB containing aggravated child abuse material.

SA JACET learned the same man had been identified as a suspect in a major operation led by the United States' Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) a decade earlier (2009).

The HSI investigation into an international network of sex offenders who abused young children and traded images and videos of the offending via an encrypted online 'bulletin board' resulted in more than 70 people being prosecuted.

While the Adelaide man was not charged as part of that investigation, HSI provided SA JACET with the data it had collected and suspected to be linked to him, including videos of a man sexually assaulting two young girls.

Over several months, SA JACET investigators examined these images, and also found abhorrent photos and videos on other dark web-based child abuse forums they connected to the Adelaide man.

Police say the man had recorded the videos of himself sexually abusing the girls in Cambodia but had not kept those digital files on his electronic devices they could access. They found the incriminating evidence only on the hidden websites.

Details about the man's frequent trips to Cambodia were also collected with the assistance of AFP officers based in Cambodia, with significant support from local authorities and non-government agencies.

While gathering evidence for a prosecution, SA JACET, AFP liaison officers and partners in Cambodia worked tirelessly to identify the children who had been abused.

APLE Cambodia, a child protection organisation, and the Legal Impact Hub used their trusted networks to find victims in remote locations and obtain vital evidence for police. Those Cambodian organisations and Australian-based international law firm Jones Day also provided welfare support and legal representation to victims.

On 17 January 2020, the man pleaded guilty to 12 offences relating to six victims:

  • Six counts of sexual conduct with a child under 16 while outside of Australia, contrary to section BC of the Crimes Act 1914 (Cth);
  • Four counts of sexual intercourse with a child under 16 while outside Australia, contrary to section BA of the Crimes Act 1914 (Cth);
  • Two counts of possession of child exploitation material, contrary to section 63A of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935 (SA).

Police alleged the girls were aged between approximately nine and 12 when they were abused by the man.

One of those girls – then aged around 11 and now in her late 20s – provided a statement to the Adelaide District Court for the sentencing, bravely providing an insight into the ongoing trauma caused by the crimes.

Enquiries remain ongoing into the man's activities, including attempts to access encrypted files on his computer.

AFP Detective Superintendent Gail McClure said the collaborative efforts of police and other partners in Australia, the United States and Cambodia have resulted in a child sex offender being brought to justice, and will hopefully give his victims some comfort.

"The girls who were tormented and abused by this man are now young women who are still affected by those crimes," AFP Detective Superintendent McClure said.

"We cannot give them back their stolen childhoods, but we hope this conviction reassures them and other abuse victims that we will never stop in our efforts to bring offenders to justice and protect children, no matter how much time has passed or where they live.

"We want to thank Queensland Police, Homeland Security Investigations and AFP officers in Cambodia and Canberra, for the initial intelligence and ongoing assistance provided to the SA JACET team.

"We also want to highlight the vital work done by Cambodian child protection organisation APLE, the Legal Impact Hub and Jones Day law firm to help us to identify and find victims in remote locations; manage complex language and cultural barriers; and obtain statements used in this prosecution.

"Child sex offenders are not restricted by state or national borders, however neither are law enforcement and their partner agencies whose focus is protecting children from harm and bringing these heinous offenders to justice.

"This should send a clear warning that we are working tirelessly with our partners to expose and hunt down anyone who preys on children – there is nowhere for these offenders to hide."

HSI Attaché to Australia, Adam Parks, said travelling for the purposes of sex abuse is an abhorrent crime, based on an assumption of limited consequences for acts committed abroad.   

"This announcement clearly dispels the notion of consequence-free behavior," he said.   "Real victims are harmed and their lives are forever affected.  Law enforcement will not rest – even if it takes a decade or more – until justice is served for these heinous acts.

"As such, HSI is grateful for the skill and dedication of the AFP and the South Australian Police who have brought an end to this individual's capacity to harm any more children."

The AFP-led Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE) also supported the investigation.

The District Court sentenced the man to nine years and six months' imprisonment with a non-parole period of five years and three months.

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 by using the Report Abuse button on the ACCCE website.

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 National 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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