On April 20th, 16 people across 5 Australian states were charged with 728 child exploitation offences after a two-year investigation involving Australian authorities and US Homeland Security Investigators.
Starting in 2018, matters were regularly referred to Australian authorities by US officials following their investigations into an online website where users paid to access child abuse material.
With the assistance of the HSI Cyber Crimes Centre, the HSI EL Paso Forensics Program, HSI International Operations, HSI Forced Child Labor Unit, INTERPOL and EUROPOL, information on registered users of the illicit marketplace was disseminated to multiple states in the United States and to international partners around the world, including Australian law enforcement.
As a result, Australian investigators executed 18 search warrants, arrested 16 people New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia on 738 charges.
Authorities were also able to remove four Australian children from harm, three in NSW and one in Victoria.
Queensland Detective Superintendent Denzil Clark from the Child Abuse and Sexual Crimes Group said strong law enforcement partnerships and a whole-of-community response are crucial to protect children from online predators.
“Queensland Police will continue sharing our expertise and working collaboratively with our national, interstate and international counterparts to target those who pose a risk to children in our community,” Detective Superintendent Clark said.
“Every day Argos investigators are online monitoring a range of platforms targeting predators who are attempting to exploit children.
But the first defense in the global fight against online child exploitation is parents and carers, who we ask to be vigilant with electronic devices used by their children and monitor their children’s online activities.”
Australian federal police assistant commissioner Lesa Gale said the charges arising from Operation Walwa were a timely reminder of the risks associated with children being online.
“This has been a long-running joint effort by law enforcement across Australia and we’re happy to see the results that can be achieved when resources are used together, particularly in the current online environment,” she said.
Since the COVID-19 outbreak there’s been a spike in traffic across the dark web, including live-streaming and incidents of child sexual abuse and child grooming.
Homeland Security Australian attaché Adam Parks said the arrests came at a critical time.
“More so than ever, children are increasingly online for their schooling, to socialize with their friends and family, and to play games,” he said.
“Let this be a warning that law enforcement is undeterred by COVID-19 and remains on-duty to keep our children safe in Australia, the US and online.”
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