AFP working with global task force to warn about sextortion

Victims believe they are sending explicit images or videos of themselves to a person their own age.

The AFP is working with a global taskforce that will take rapid and coordinated action against criminals financially sextorting youth. 

On Safer Internet Day, the AFP is warning parents and teenagers to be aware of the growing threat of sextortion, which has led to some young people in Australia and other countries self-harming.

The Virtual Global Taskforce (VGT) is an alliance of 15 international law enforcement agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) and New Zealand Police.

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Victims believe they are sending explicit images or videos of themselves to a person their own age. However, often they are being tricked by adult offenders, who demand money in return for the images not being released to friends, family or online.

The AFP-led Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE) recently reported a 100-fold increase in reports of financial sextortion followed by a further 60 per cent surge during the summer school holidays.

Police fear the true number of victims in Australia is much higher with conservative estimates indicating that fewer than a quarter of minors report to police.

Law enforcement agencies globally have reported a similar surge in cases, leading to the joint warning and effort to counter the new online child exploitation threat.

AFP Acting Commander of the ACCCE Detective Jayne Crossling said organised offshore criminal syndicates were continuing to monetise the sexual exploitation of Australian teenagers.

“Our intelligence suggests this threat will be ongoing, which goes to the importance of the international partnerships to disrupt, deter and take action against these offenders,” acting Commander Crossling said.

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“The online sexual exploitation of anyone aged under 18 is a criminal offence and in Australia this crime should be reported to the ACCCE at accce.gov.au.”

Acting Commander Crossling said current reporting indicated offenders were predominantly targeting teenage boys aged 13-17 years old and often there were multiple victims within the same online friends group.

“Offenders are becoming more aggressive in their approaches and they are manipulative in making victims feel isolated, with no way out of the situation,” she said.

“Fear, coercion and manipulation keep the crime going.

“Victims often report feeling like they have done something wrong and will be punished by parents or carers, or prosecuted by police if their actions are discovered.

“The ACCCE is here to protect children from online child sexual exploitation. Please know that if you have been targeted, you are a victim and won’t be criticised or blamed. Our specialist investigators will make sure you get the help you need.

“If this has happened to you, it’s likely happening to your friends. By speaking up, we can help you, and we can help to prevent further harm to people you know.”

VGT Chair, Director General NCA, Robert Jones said the taskforce enabled global law enforcement to share expertise, boosting their ability to take rapid coordinated action against emerging global trends such as the rising threat of financial sextortion.

“As Chair, I am determined to maximise every opportunity afforded by the VGT to help us to continue to bear down on the threat, protect children and target offenders,” Mr Jones said.

“The most important reminder for Safer Internet Day is to continue having open conversations about online safety within our communities and especially with the young people in our lives.  

“Thankfully there is an arsenal of preventative tools available globally to support caregivers, professionals and young people.”

The AFP-led ACCCE and its partners are committed to stopping child exploitation and abuse and driving a collaborative national approach to combatting child abuse.

In response to financial sextortion, the ACCCE recommends

  • Stop the chat
  • Take screenshots of the text and profile
  • Block the account and report it to the platform
  • Report it to the ACCCE
  • Get support

The AFP’s ThinkUKnow program has developed the Online blackmail and sexual extortion response kit to help young people to recognise and manage incidents of online blackmail and sexual extortion.

The AFP is working closely with the financial sector to impede the flow of money from victims to offshore syndicates.

The AFP is aware that criminals are attempting to financially sextort adults and anyone who has been targeted should seek advice from the eSafety Commissioner and state and territory police.

Victims can also contact eSafety for help to quickly remove naked or sexual images shared without consent through www.esafety.gov.au/report.

For free and confidential support at any time call Kids Helpline 1800551800 or www.kidshelpline.com.au.

Members of the public who have information about people involved in child abuse and exploitation are urged to call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or www.accce.gov.au/report. If you know abuse is happening right now or a child is at risk, call police immediately on 000.

Research conducted by the ACCCE in 2020 revealed only about half of parents talked to their children about online safety.

An award-winning podcast launched last year by the ACCCE ‘Closing The Net’ is working to change that, showcasing that knowledge is power and that our only chance to help prevent this issue is if we bring a ‘whole-of-community’ response.

The podcast series offers valuable tips and advice on how to keep kids safe online. Listen to the Closing The Net podcast on your favourite streaming platform.

If you or someone you know are impacted by child sexual abuse and online exploitation there are support services available at www.accce.gov.au/support.

Advice and support for parents and carers about how they can help protect children online can be found at www.thinkuknow.org.au, an AFP-led education program designed to prevent online child sexual exploitation.