Three men charged, four children removed from harm after AFP investigation into child exploitation network

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Two Sydney men and a Queensland man have been charged in the past week and four children have been saved from further harm, following a national police investigation into individuals allegedly producing and sharing child abuse material.

The investigation into an online network began in February 2020 after a tip-off from the United States’ National Center for Missing and Exploited Children resulted in the Australian Federal Police Child Protection Operations (CPO) team in NSW arresting another Sydney man, aged 29, for possessing and sharing child abuse material.

A subsequent forensic examination of that man’s electronic devices revealed he was allegedly communicating with a 28-year-old man from the Queensland town of Hervey Bay via an instant messaging application.

The NSW AFP officers alerted counterparts in the Queensland Joint Anti Child Exploitation Team (QLD JACET), who began an investigation into the Hervey Bay man’s alleged online activities.

On Wednesday, 6 May (2020), the QLD JACET, along with members of the AFP Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE), executed a search warrant at the man’s residence and seized several electronic items, including a tablet and a laptop computer.

During this warrant, a forensic and ACCCE covert interrogation of seized electronic items identified another individual who was suspected of sending self-produced child abuse material to the Hervey Bay man.

The 28-year-old will appear before Brisbane Magistrates Court on 3 July on charges of transmitting and possessing child abuse material. 

The NSW AFP CPO team began urgent enquiries to identify that person and on Friday 8 May, with the assistance of NSW Police Force Child Abuse and Sex Crimes Squad officers, executed a search warrant at a Sydney residence and removed a child from harm.

Police will allege a 29-year-old man had been sexually abusing a boy known to him at that location and creating and producing child exploitation material.

It will be alleged he had been transmitting and sharing videos and photographs of the alleged abuse of the boy, as well as other child abuse material.

Police will also allege that the 29-year-old has sexually abused three other young boys he had contact with and inquiries by the AFP and NSW Police Force Child Abuse and Sex Crimes Squad are ongoing.

The man is also accused of engaging in sexual acts with two dogs, which have also been removed from harm.

Several electronic items – which allegedly contain child abuse images and videos – and other evidence were seized from the man’s home during the warrant.  

The 29-year-old has been charged with 10 offences:

  • Having sexual intercourse with a child under 10, contrary to section 66A(1) of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW);
  • Three counts of intentionally sexually touch a child under 10, contrary to section 66DA(a) of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW),
  • Bestiality, contrary to section 79 of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW),
  • Two counts of using a carriage service to transmit child abuse material, contrary to section 474.22 of the Criminal Code 1995 (Cth);
  • Two counts of possessing or controlling child abuse material obtained or accessed using a carriage service, contrary to 474.22A of the Criminal Code 1995 (Cth),
  • Possessing, controlling, producing, supplying or obtaining child abuse material for use through a carriage service, contrary to section 474.23 of the Criminal Code 1995 (Cth).

The potential maximum penalties for the offences range from 14 years imprisonment to a life sentence.

The man has been remanded in custody to reappear in Central Local Court on 9 June.

Further inquiries on Friday (8 May), led police to search the Sydney home of a 48-year-old man, who is allegedly known to the 29-year-old.

A preliminary search of his computer uncovered images and videos allegedly depicting child abuse material.

The 48-year-old was charged with possessing, controlling, producing or supplying child abuse material obtained or accessed using a carriage service, contrary to section 474.23 of the Criminal Code 1995 (Cth) and faced a Parramatta court on Saturday, 9 May.

He was remanded in custody until his next appearance in Penrith Local Court on Tuesday 12 May.

AFP Acting Commander for ACCCE and Child Protection Operations Paula Hudson said the efforts of all the ACCCE, AFP and State police in NSW and QLD involved in the investigation had saved four young boys from further harm.

“It is heartbreaking to think of any child being sexually abused or exploited to satisfy an adult’s criminal impulses, but it strengthens our resolve to hunt down perpetrators and bring them to justice,” she said.

“Sexual abuse has a devastating and lifelong impact on the child victims and their families and that abuse is amplified each time images or videos detailing the crimes are shared.”

Acting Commander Hudson said the AFP and ACCCE work tirelessly to protect children wherever they live.

“We use a range of investigative techniques to detect anyone who preys on children – in person or online,” she said.

“We want to warn offenders they cannot stay anonymous online and the COVID-19 crisis has not shifted our focus from tracking down anyone involved in this vile behaviour.

“Use of encrypted applications and systems to share this distressing material will not protect you. We have the tools and capabilities to crack open your networks and arrest you.”

The ACCCE, which is headquartered in Brisbane, is committed to stopping child exploitation and abuse and is at the centre of a collaborative national approach to combatting organised child abuse.

The Centre 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 at www.accce.gov.au/report.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Media are reminded of their obligations to protect the identity of child victims and victims of sexual assault 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'

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".

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