Countering Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse - National Press Club

Delivered by Mr Reece P Kershaw, APM, Commissioner, Australian Federal Police on Wednesday 19 February, 2020.

Today I want to lift the lid on society's dark secret. I want to shine a light on the ever-increasing online exploitation of our children, by those that seek to do them harm. Deviant and perverted offenders, with global reach, who are using the dark web to evade law enforcement detection and commit heinous crimes against our most vulnerable.

We all think we can use the clear web, or surface web, safely, so long as we follow some basic precautions. Yet this is where predators hunt for our children. And the dark web is a more sinister place, where these predators lurk and hide in complete anonymity.

Over a decade ago, the AFP received about 300 referrals for online child exploitation material a year.

Last year the AFP had just under 17,000.

In the US, it's in the millions.

And understand that each referral is not a single file; it could be thousands, millions of videos and pictures of children being sexually abused. The Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation, the ACCCE, are dealing with a database of 22 million seized videos and images, and will soon merge with a Queensland database of another 50 million.

We are seeing more videos, younger children, and more violence. We are seeing the rape and torture of our children. All for sexual gratification.

And Australian offenders are involved in producing this material. They travel to impoverished places, and they exploit vulnerable children.

They use the dark web like a weapon: they use encryption like a sword and anonymity like a shield, to harm our children and avoid justice. This is organised crime, but the commodity is children.

I want you to know, law enforcement fights for those who can't, we speak for those who can't. And our basic mission is to prevent crime and disorder – but I want to not only prevent, but defeat and eradicate this crime.

For example, the AFP and partners in two states identified a Victorian man through images of the sexual exploitation of his nieces, then aged 9 and 11. But the material had been produced over the preceding five years.

On arresting him, it was evident that he had sexually abused his own 8-month old twin girls.

The twins were born to a surrogate mother overseas. And he started abusing them when they were weeks old.

We rescued those children from harm's way, but know this: this man had been exploiting them, and producing child exploitation material, for eight months – and sharing that material with other offenders. And if he wasn't stopped, he would have continued to do so.

We solved that case because we identified the victims.

But when INTERPOL looked at the unique images on their database, more than 1.1 million images and videos, there were nearly 600,000 unidentified victims. Children that we have no idea who or where they are.

How do you bring justice to an offender's doorstep when you don't know where their doorstep is?

The Dark Web doesn't only provide anonymity for individuals and networks, but for whole websites, servers, untold volumes of material.

It's a digital blackspot.

The 'We Protect' Global Alliance estimates 2.8 million users across just the ten most harmful Dark Web sites.

2.8 million users, logging on, ordering whatever they want. I quote here from a dark web forum from one of our investigations, involving a child who was continually sexually abused, and on show for the entire criminal network: 'love your 5yo. Next time, place candles around her in a circle and write a greeting note on her stomach to the group'.

Predators are directing this abuse like they're directing films.

A family carer arrested in South Australia ran a dark web site with 45,000 active members worldwide. He was a contact offender – and we see people moving from viewing material to abusing children themselves, as they become drawn further into these horrific networks. There are Australian forums active right now with over 100,000 members, and global sites with over a million visitors, all of whom believe they can offend with impunity. They fear us, but they believe we can't find them. We have to continue to hunt them down, and we won't stop.

Our capabilities and legislation are evolving to meet this threat.

I understand that encryption protects a lot of things, but when it is weaponised to harm our children then we need to consider our response. And I welcome innovative ideas from industry, but we have an immediate problem to address.

Industry has been playing an active role. In 2018, a US NGO received 18.4 million 'cyber tip' referrals from tech companies.

But the bulk of those – 12 million of them – are from Facebook. And once it encrypts its Messenger service, we may lose them all.

If we can work together on this, and find solutions that are safeguarded, proportionate, and just, then we can better protect our children.

We are in discussions regarding how we might work with the US government, under the 'Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data (CLOUD)' Act, to streamline requests for key evidence held by US-based companies. And we welcome more discussion on policing the dark web – taking the fight to the digital doorstep, and dragging offenders into the light.

Sometimes we're great at matching the pace of change. I welcome the government's speed in legislating against childlike sex dolls. The Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment was another important step in dealing with the encryption offenders hide behind. So was the introduction of Commonwealth offences for possessing child exploitation material – passed last year, and then used only days later in Melbourne, and again in South Australia and NSW.

Investment into the AFP-led ACCCE is leading the way in multi-agency collaboration that is essential in this fight and I thank the Minister for this initiative. And the ACCCE is working on an enhanced victim identification capability, at the national and international level, coordinating our fight and sharing the burden.

These investments are important because our people who police these crimes are doing a tough job.

We owe them this: if they will do the worst job, we need to give them the best tools.

In the audience today is Detective Inspector Jon Rouse, an Operations Manager at the ACCCE. Jon has been a police officer for 36 years, and is a pioneer in this field. He describes his work in victim identification as the most rewarding of his career. And when he was asked why:

He says it's because, unlike many other crime types, he gets a chance to stop the crime. He gets the chance to remove those children from harm, sometimes before they're even old enough to remember.

I want to be able to face people in the future, when today's children have grown into tomorrow's leaders, and tell them I put everything I had into this fight. That we recognised how the environment had changed, and we moved to change with it. That we protected our children.

We all have a moral responsibility to get this right.

We need to 'unite the fight' to deliver maximum damage to the criminal environment. Law enforcement, government, industry, NGOs, communities, all of us – working together, with appropriate powers and resources, fighting for our children. That's how we achieve justice.

Thank you.

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The Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation

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