Australia law enforcement warn continued online child sexual exploitation threat

The protection of children remains a high priority for the Australian Federal Police (AFP), Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE), and state and territory police Australia-wide, with new resources and an online safety challenge launched yesterday.

The COVID-19 pandemic presents a number of online safety challenges for children and young people. Prevention is critical in countering the exploitation of children online, yet ACCCE research published earlier this year revealed that information seeking and discussion about online children sexual exploitation is generally only undertaken in response to a specific event.

AFP Assistant Commissioner for the ACCCE and Child Protection Operations Lesa Gale said the AFP, ACCCE and state and territory police will continue to work together to keep children safe during COVID-19.

“We want to reassure the community that we have bolstered our efforts, sharing of information and enhanced coordination to investigate online child sexual exploitation,” Assistant Commissioner Gale said.

“We released a national online safety challenge to Australians to help safeguard their families against online exploitation, and new online safety home learning resources for parents and carers as part of the ThinkUKnow program.”

Detective Superintendent Mark Wieszyk from South Australia Police’s Public Protection Branch said many children are spending more time on the computer.

“Accessing their education and communicating with friends remotely, parents are urged to keep a close eye on who their children are communicating with online,” Detective Superintendent Wieszyk said.

Officer in Charge of the Victorian Joint Anti Child Exploitation Team (JACET), Acting Inspector Karen Bennett, said it was important that even though many people may feel isolated at the moment, police are still able to receive and act on any reports.

“Children are potentially at further risk due to their isolation from schools, friends and community members who would otherwise been able to assist in mandatory reporting,” Acting Inspector Bennett said.

“However, there is still a strong police and law enforcement presence both in terms of being able to take reports from victims or in relation to any criminal activity, as well as investigating these reports.

Detective Superintendent John Kerlatec from the New South Wales Police Force Child Abuse and Sex Crimes Squad said while social media apps help young people stay in touch with friends and access educational material, they can also bring them into contact with strangers.

“Any app, online game, or social media platform that allows the user to be in contact with people they do not know can put children at risk,” Detective Superintendent Kerlatec said.

“NSW Police have increased their commitment to targeting those who use the internet to prey on our kids during this time – with specialist officers now working seven-days a week to monitor these activities.

Detective Superintendent Denzil Clark from the Queensland Police Service Child Abuse and Sexual Crimes Group said the new resources are a great way for parents and caregivers to take active and ongoing measures around online safety.

“This is so important in helping us stop, solve and prevent these types of child abuse crimes,” Detective Superintendent Clark said.

Detective Acting Inspector Nikala Parsons from the Tasmania Police Serous Organised Crime Division said that with the increased number of children at home and online, there are increased opportunities for children to become victims of online grooming.

“Prevention, through education and learning about online safety is recognised as a key factor in eradicating the exploitation of children. The resources provide an avenue for parents and carers to encourage open discussion,” Detective Acting Inspector Parsons said.

Detective Superintendent Rob Anderson Western Australian Police Force Sex Crime Division said the COVID-19 pandemic potentially presents more opportunities for offenders to exploit children via the internet and social media.

“It is vital that parents and carers be extra vigilant. With their help, WA Police remain focussed and committed to reducing threats to all children, and will continue to work closely with the ACCCE and other State and National partners in identifying, arresting and prosecuting those who prey on children and break the law,” Detective Superintendent Anderson said.

Seven day online safety challenge

The challenge involves a daily simple task for parents and carers to complete, to help kick-start their journey in helping protect their children.

To take part in the challenge, visit www.accce.gov.au or https://www.facebook.com/ACCCEaus/ and https://twitter.com/ACCCE_AUS

New ThinkUKnow resources – home learning activity packs

New home learning activity packs support parents and carers and address the challenges associated with children spending more time online. To access the activity packs visit: https://www.thinkuknow.org.au/for-parents-and-carers

Source — Australia Federal Police (AFP)