World Congress speech: Global realities of child exploitation

AFP Global Congress Hand 2017

Delivered by Commander Lesa Gale, AFP Manager Victim Based Crime.

Good afternoon, and thank you for inviting me here today to take part in the seventh World Congress on Family Law and Children's Rights.

Today, as part of this panel, I am going to speak about the global realities of child exploitation.

I am a career police with 30 years' service with the Australian Federal Police. During my career I have worked in a variety of investigative fields, including sexual assault and child abuse. I have also led the AFP's national and international online child exploitation investigations with connections to Australia.

A key element of this role was the adoption of an Australian nationally consistent model bringing together our many State police and Commonwealth law enforcement agencies known as the Joint Anti Child Exploitation Teams (JACET).

Some of what I tell you today if you haven't heard it before will be confronting; it is our law enforcement reality of what we are seeing in the online world, what we are experiencing in terms of 'trends', and most importantly, what we are, and you can do, to eradicate the sexual exploitation of children around the world.

The online world...

We all know the internet provides so many positive things in the world today, but with it, like everything, comes the negatives... including an environment for child exploitation to thrive.

There are more than 3.7 billion internet users worldwide.[1]

In just one minute there are 156 million emails and 16 million text messages sent... 900,000 Facebook logins... 4.1 million YouTube videos viewed... 1.8 million snaps created... and 46,200 posts uploaded to Instagram.[2]

Of these 3.7 billion users, at any given moment, some 750,000 of them are child predators[3], a statistic that is now almost 10 years old.

We expect it's a much, much higher number than this.

Every nine minutes a webpage shows a child being sexually abused.[4] In 2009, it was estimated that more than 200 new images of child exploitation were circulated daily.[5]

Children today live the majority of their life online. They do not separate between the online and 'real' offline world. Without access to the internet, keeping up to date with what their friends are doing online, and counting how many likes they have, their world stops.

Child sex offenders use this to their advantage. They use the privacy and anonymity of the internet to identify and target vulnerable children; children who are often online unsupervised on what appear to be benign platforms.

And the problem continues to grow.

Hundreds and thousands of images and videos are already available online.

In 2008, INTERPOL identified more than 500,000 unique—previously unknown to law enforcement—images of child sexual exploitation, and discovered approximately 700 'new' victims.

By 2014, INTERPOL had identified more than 1 million images of child sexual abuse.[6]

In the early and mid-2000s, in Australia the number of images seized when an offender was arrested was around 1,000 images of a child sexually abuse.

We were seizing kilobyte and megabytes of child exploitation material.

Today, on average a seizure is between 10,000 to 80,000 images and videos. Some seizures have contained more than one million multi-media files.[7]

We are seizing terabytes... petabytes of child exploitation material, cloud-based and hard drives.[8] To put this into perspective, one petabyte is the equivalent of 20 million four-drawer filing cabinets filled with text.[9]

In Australia, a total of 6 million images depicting the sexual exploitation of children are held in the Australian National Victim Image Library.

And we know there is certainly more child sex abuse that can be found in every crevice of the internet that will never be reported to police.

I would have to agree with the Internet Watch Foundation—the amount of imagery we are seeing of individual children is more than ever before, and will continue to increase, unless we, as a community, do something more.

I recognise that to do that something more... to put an end to child exploitation... is beyond the capacity of law enforcement agencies alone. It requires a global whole-of-community response with global, whole-of-community actions... this commitment starts with us as community leaders.

Global reality is shocking

Just last month through Operation PACIFIER, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation and Europol announced the arrest of nearly 900 suspected paedophiles and the identification or rescue of almost 300 children from their abusers worldwide.

Figures from the Internet Watch Foundation also show that reports of child sexual abuse imagery rose by 417 per cent between 2013 and 2015.

This year alone the AFP's Child Exploitation Assessment Centre has experienced a tsunami of reports of child exploitation.

In 2016 we received more than 8,000 reports of child exploitation. In the first five months of this year the AFP has received more than 4,500 reports of child exploitation—a figure greater than the number of reports received in the 2013 and 2014 calendar years.

Each one of these reports can contain hundreds and thousands of images and videos of children being sexually abused and tortured.

Technological advances, including anonymising programs such as The Onion Router (TOR), peer-to-peer networking technology, and the capacity for increased online file storage and sharing, has facilitated the widespread sharing and storing of harmful material... and law enforcements efforts to keep up and ahead of new technology is challenging.

Online child exploitation is difficult to track and investigate, given secure technologies such as streaming services such as pay per view, the anonymity provided by the 'dark web', and less traceable payment systems such as Bitcoin.

Victims are getting younger...

Last month, the International Justice Mission—who work to protect impoverished communities from violence in Africa, Latin America, South Asia and South East Asia—was quoted as saying 54 per cent of victims rescued by the mission were under 12 years of age; the youngest victim ever rescued, just a few weeks ago, was just two months old, and there has been as many as three busts a week in relation to child exploitation.[10]

A 2015 NetClean Report stated that 'violence against children recorded in images and videos has become more severe in the last three years', and that by the day, victims are getting younger, and younger.[11]

Unfortunately many of my colleagues working across the AFP child protection space have seen this for ourselves, and we sadly agree with the observations made by NetClean... Each day, our Assessment Centre receives imagery depicting infants being sexually abused... Officers are reporting a disturbing trend focussing on pain and death involving babies and toddlers... Producers of such material are trying to shock and go to the next level of violence, which has created an almost competitive environment.

Innocent children are trading cards in these circles that have an insatiable appetite for such material.

Last year, the AFP prosecuted an Australian man who was sentenced to 22 years imprisonment for soliciting the creation and birth of twin girls through a surrogate with the full intent of sexually abusing them.

They were only 27 days old when the first sexual assault began.

This was a disturbing case involving child trafficking, incest, surrogacy and child exploitation... and it continues to be difficult to find words to describe the crimes committed on these innocent babies.

It's a case that had a profound impact on those who investigated the acts, and it's a case that we'd prefer to never investigate again.

Then there is the case of Australian man, Peter SCULLY, which is still before the courts in the Philippines. Some of the most horrific imagery our officers have ever seen to date was uncovered—SCULLY had called his child exploitation series 'Daisy's Destruction'.

The reality of this is that unfortunately for the victims, despite the efforts of our international law enforcement partners, these videos are still circulating in the cyber world today, and they'll remain in circulation for years to come. They have been saved, copied, re-uploaded, hidden in paedophile networks, and stored on the dark net...

It is alleged that SCULLY violently sexually abused, tortured, and trafficked young girls and babies, taken from desperately poor families in the Philippines.

He is also accused of murdering one of his 12-year-old victims.

SCULLY was linked to another two Australian men. The first is Matthew GRAHAM, also known as 'Lux'. A 23-year-old man living with his parents, who has now been sentenced to 15 years in jail for running an 'evil' global child abuse website.

He shared footage of the torture, killing, and mutilation of infants, including videos allegedly produced by SCULLY.

His website attracted up to 400,000 hits a day and included people who posted images of themselves abusing their own children.

GRAHAM was just 21-years-old at the time these offences took place.

The second man is Shannon McCOOLE: A man who had no criminal history and was responsible for caring for children.

He controlled an international child sex abuse bulletin which had 45,000 members in the network that were obliged, as a condition of membership, to share a continuous stream of child sex material. This was considered 'proof' of their commitment to sexually abuse children.

He would upload images and videos of himself sexually abusing young children and babies in his care, which began when he was 28-years-old, he also admits being attracted to children from the age of 15.

And then there is the case of two Australian men, Peter TRUONG and Mark NEWTON, who bought a newborn baby boy overseas. They proceeded to transport him around the world allowing men to sexually abuse him.

The boy was seen as a jewel in the crown for the global paedophile ring.

The men were arrested in the United States when the boy was six years old.

All of us in this room face a huge challenge when we look at the global realities of child exploitation.

Increase in self-produced images...

The other end of the spectrum is young people online.

Today, there are more than 100 million young people are using the internet every day.[12]

The AFP is a great advocate of technology and the internet, particularly through our ThinkUKnow cyber safety education program—originally developed by the United Kingdom's Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre—but we are also well aware of the risks young people are exposed to online.

Younger generations are exposed to indecent material and behaviour at a younger age, and their interaction with strangers is becoming accepted behaviour.

When asked about what trends our federal officers in Australia are seeing, equal to the increase in violence and the younger age of victims is the rapid emergence of self-produced child sexual exploitation material.

The AFP Assessment Centre is now receiving more and more reports of children aged as young as four producing sexually explicit material and uploading this material to social media platforms, subsequently engaging with online child sex offenders.

The Internet Watch Foundation is reporting similar trends with an increase in 11 to 15-year-olds identified in child sexual abuse on URLs, with this increase attributed to 'self-produced' content created using webcams.[13]

The Australian Office of eSafety Commissioner recently released a report stating that on average, kids (aged 8 to 13) have two social media accounts and teens (aged 14 to 17) have three.

The most popular social media accounts for kids today are Youtube, Facebook, and Instagram. The majority of teens have these accounts as well as Snapchat.[14]

An alarming thought in relation to these statistics is that some of these teens could indeed be some of the 750,000-plus online child predators I referenced earlier.

It is not just the victims that are getting younger—it is the offenders, too.

Some of these young offenders are taking it upon themselves to perform sexually explicit acts, and others are being groomed to do so.

We heard recently of a seven-year-old directed to abuse his two-year-old sister for the purposes of Live Distance Child Abuse...[15]

It's not just online child exploitation...

We are all well aware that the global child exploitation footprint is not only an online one... 'Offline', so to speak, child exploitation is also a major concern largely influenced as a direct result of the online demand to view new material.

It is the simple economic principle of supply and demand.

In 2009, the United Nations estimated that the production and distribution of child exploitation images generated between $3 billion and $20 billion a year.[16]

In 2016, a Global Study on Sexual Exploitation of Children in Travel and Tourism, commissioned by ECPAT International, said that 'despite 20 years of efforts, the sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism has expanded across the globe and out-paced every attempt to respond at the national and international level...

No region is untouched by this crime and no country is immune...'[17]

In Australia and around the world, rates of live-streamed child abuse via webcam, video footage and image capture are growing.

We will continue to see an increase in Live Distant Child Abuse where a buyer can not only pay for live sexual abuse to be inflicted on a child like you would rent a movie, but they can pay to 'direct' the film.

The International Justice Mission states that the reporting of 'cybersex trafficking' cases in the Philippines has increased six-fold since 2014.[18]

This has been a priority concern across South East Asia where global efforts to combat this 'trend' are well underway, and as Australian hardens its laws to prevent child sex offenders from travelling outside of Australia, we are conscious of the effect this may have on vulnerable communities.

While we continue to work with our foreign law enforcement partners to fight Live Distant Child Abuse, we are, as the International Justice Mission reports, just scratching the surface.

It is predicted in the Global Study that this 'live sex show' trend will extend through to the Middle East and Africa as technology becomes more readily available, combined with conflict, wealth disparities that fuel migration,

the low status of women and girls, harmful traditions such as child or 'temporary' marriages, and lack of economic stability... And it is estimated that mobile internet traffic in the Sub-Saharan African region will rise twenty-fold by the end of the decade.

In 2013, research estimated that tens of thousands of boys and girls are victims of Live Distance Child Abuse.[19]

The Global Study recommends that international and regional organisations need to place the commercial sexual exploitation of children higher on their political agendas than tourism, for example, and meet their international commitments to protect them.[20]

You will hear more about this from Chief Justice John Pascoe over the coming days.

A world without child exploitation

What I have shared with you today is disturbing, but it is an honest picture of the global situation we are facing with the exploitation of children in 2017 and beyond.

A world without the exploitation of children starts here with us today, but too, it starts with our leaders and governments making a genuine commitment to protecting children.

One of the challenges faced in the world today is that for a crime to be given priority, for it to receive the necessary financial support, it needs to be supported with an evidence base of statistical data.

There needs to be an immediate and tangible solution.

Child sexual abuse occurs behind closed doors.

It cannot be seen by the general public, and even when it can, it's often too confronting or uncomfortable to accept.

It isn't spoken about like weekend sport or terrorism, and it needs to be.

Our children are at risk, indeed sexually exploited, every minute of every day.

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's life has been severely impacted, for life.

More than any crime type, law enforcement agencies cannot arrest their way out of this problem.

Only last week the Australian media called for domestic violence in Australia to be considered of equal importance to our national security measures.

Interestingly, the Judge who presided over the McCOOLE case I mentioned earlier referenced the crime as highly sophisticated, elaborate, organised and controlled... all the elements of what we traditionally consider high-end serious and organised crime... a criminal syndicate.

Governments are starting to take action, including our own, which I will speak about shortly.

In 2014 the United Kingdom's Government prioritised child sexual abuse on par with organised crime, classifying the crime as a 'national threat'.[21]

The Dutch Government, too, included transnational child sex offending in its Security Agenda for 2015-18 to reinforce international efforts in countering this crime, and released an Action Plan to do so.[22]

The United Kingdom also established the WePROTECT Global Alliance, of which Australia is a signatory. It is an international movement dedicated to national and global action to end the sexual exploitation of children online.

It is of great importance that we work with our governments of the day; that we ensure they are aware of the facts of this atrocious crime.

We need to ensure our governments are, and remain, genuinely committed to protecting children around the world from sexual exploitation.

It is also important that the value of prevention is understood... Because child exploitation has become the 'Fifth Estate'.

Like the clergy, the nobility, the commoners, and the media in the Estate of the Realm, it is a societal weight whose influence is not consistently or officially recognised...

But if it is recognised, and we all follow the lead of the United Kingdom, the Dutch, and others in this room, we will go some way to eradicate all forms of child abuse.

Imagine a world where...

I would like us take a moment to imagine a world where our children could be safe from child sexual exploitation.

Global efforts need to continue to work toward this world we've just imagined.

And we are on our way in many respects. The journey has re-commenced.

Throughout this congress, and on this very panel, you'll hear about efforts that are already underway that will significantly change the lives of hundreds and thousands of children... and has already significantly changed the way society perceives the abuse of children, and women.

India's Child is a primary example of this. So too is the Alannah and Madeleine Foundation's eSmart program which provides a prevention and risk management framework for Australian schools and libraries to help them better integrate cyber safety practices and promote the safe use of online technology.

Within the AFP, we deliver our very own cyber safety education program, recognising that one ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

The UK-developed ThinkUKnow cyber safety education program I mentioned earlier is delivered in the classroom to parents, carers, and teachers, to educate them about the risks and challenges faced by young people online.

It's a unique partnership between police and the private sector, bringing together volunteers from the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Microsoft, and Datacom, with Australian law enforcement representatives to deliver presentations across our enormous country.

This non-traditional partnership arrangement forms the basis of the Virtual Global Taskforce. Twelve law enforcement agencies from across continents, including Australia, and 19 private sector companies work collaboratively to drive joint operations and policy in a global effort to protect children from online child abuse and other forms of transnational child sexual exploitation.

In the Pacific, we recently re-launched Cyber Safety Pasifika, a regionally-targeted child protection program. The program goes further to develop the skills of our neighbouring nations police officers to increase their understanding of the risks and opportunities associated with technology in their region, and how to communicate that to their local communities.

Again, in our own backyard, law enforcement and government partnerships has meant the likes of Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand, are denying entry to Australian travelling child sex offenders.

These are Australians who have previously been convicted of child sex offences, and are therefore registered on Australia's National Child Sex Offenders database.

By law, registered child sex offenders are required to notify Australian authorities of any international travel plans. These plans are then provided to the destination country, who can deny them entry to their country.

We have already seen a reduction in travel to these previously popular destinations, and the Australian government, just five days ago, announced further measures that will soon come into effect to cancel the passports of up to 20,000 Australians registered on this database.

This is a world first. The new legislation will see Australia as a world leader in protecting vulnerable children from child sex tourism by allowing authorities to prevent registered sex offenders from holding an Australian passport.

While this doesn't stop the SCULLY's of the world—child sex offenders without any previous convictions in their home country—it certainly goes a long way to disrupting crime at its source.

And like education, legislative reform most certainly plays a part in this thousand-piece puzzle.

In March this year, the Australian government also announced its intention to introduce new laws to crack down on online predators, creating greater protection for young Australians.

The new legislation—known as Carly's Law—targets online predators preparing or planning to cause harm to, procure, or engage in sexual activity with a child. Importantly, this includes those who misrepresent their age to a minor.

This legislation serves as a deterrent, with a sentence of 10 years imprisonment for convicted offenders. More importantly, it can be used before a child is harmed.

Outside of law enforcement, legislative harmony and a consistency in terminology across all countries is needed to ensure we can deter and disrupt child sex offenders.

Outside legislative reform, there's a community that must take action.

As a group clearly committed to the cause, we need to continue to raise awareness of the issues around child sexual exploitation to keep it on the public agenda.

We cannot stop talking about it, or pushing boundaries where they need to be pushed.

It should not be a topic of taboo.

It should be spoken about, and every citizen of all our countries should be aware of the risks to children.

We are a community within ourselves with a passion and commitment to put an end to child sexual exploitation, and I believe we can.

Thank you.

[1] Internet world statistics as at 31 March 2017.

[2] 2017 This is what happens in an internet minute. Created by LariLewis

[3] United Nations UNICEF Report, 2009

[4] Internet Watch Foundation Annual Report 2016 p2

[5] United Nations UNICEF Report, 2009

[6] Child Abuse Today's Issues, p138, K A McCabe and D G Murphy 2017 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC

[7] AFP Victim Based Crime Survey 2017

[8] Behind the Scenes: Online Child Exploitation, 2017

[9] Big Data Inforgraphic - Berkely University

[10] 'Aussies increasingly involved in child sex webcam abuse' NewsCorp Lanai SCARR 4 May 2017, and 'Inside sordid webcam den where suspected predator filmed child sexual abuse' AP 9 May 2017

[11] 2015 NetClean Report Eleven unbelievable truths

[12] Child Abuse Today's Issues, p135, K A McCabe and D G Murphy 2017 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC

[13] Internet Watch Foundation Annual Report 2016

[14] 'Research Insights – Young and social online'

[15] 'Aussies increasingly involved in child sex webcam abuse' NewsCorp Lanai SCARR 4 May 2017

[16] United Nations UNICEF Report, 2009

[17] 'Offenders on the Move: A Global Study on Sexual Exploitation of Children in Travel and Tourism', May 2016. ECPAT International.

[18] Cybersex trafficking of children

[19] Terre Des Hommes, 'Webcam Child Sex Tourism', (2013)

[20] Offenders on the Move: A Global Study on Sexual Exploitation of Children in Travel and Tourism', May 2016. ECPAT International.

[21] Britain Cameron says child sex abuse a national threat

[22] Three_police_missions_as_a_national_security_instrument and Toolkit_TRANSNATIONAL_CSO

National Security Hotline

Read the AFP Annual Report 2020-21

The Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation

Platypus Online: Read. Discover. Enjoy.