One hundred and forty-six children in Australia and throughout the world have been identified as victims of online child sexual exploitation as a result of six AFP-led victim identification taskforces.
This National Child Protection Week, the AFP is also revealing details of Operation Blackheath, an eight-month operation targeting 47 prolific capping offenders from around the world.
Capping involves online predators encouraging, tricking or coercing children into live-streaming sexually-explicit behaviour, which they then “cap” or “capture”, giving the activity its name.
Offenders often pretend to be an online friend of a similar age to the victim, and record the content for their own use or to share with other offenders.
As part of Operation Blackheath, the AFP hosted victim identification specialists and intelligence analysts from across the country and around the world during two separate taskforces, held in December 2022 and May 2023.
Victim identification specialists from the AFP-led Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE) have raised concerns about the large volume of sexually-explicit videos of children and teenagers found online and on offenders’ seized devices.
It is believed that a significant amount of this material has been generated through capping, and suspect most victims are unaware the footage has been distributed or shared online.
Operation Blackheath has generated several investigative leads, including establishing the suspected identities of nine prolific offenders, with referrals sent to law enforcement partners in three countries. The experts also identified 21 other countries where they believe further offenders are based. To date, no Australian offenders have been identified by Operation Blackheath.
Eight victims were identified as part of Operation Blackheath and a further 77 suspected victims have been referred to overseas law enforcement partners for further investigation.
Referral countries include the US, UK, Russia, Denmark, Argentina, South Korea, Canada, Sweden, Norway, Belgium, Italy, South Africa, Germany and France.
Operation Blackheath has resulted in 2554 media files being submitted to INTERPOL’S International Child Sexual Exploitation ICSE database, including 242 series of files of abuse that were previously unseen.
The AFP is also revealing details about the little-known work of the victim ID taskforces, which bring together victim identification and intelligence specialists from across Australia and the world.
In addition to Operation Blackheath, since 2021, the AFP led ACCCE has conducted four major Victim ID taskforces which were attended by its state, territory and international partners. Those taskforces have:
- Identified 138 victims of online child sex abuse, including 87 Australian children allegedly abused by a Gold Coast childcare worker charged under Operation Tenterfield;
- Provided information to Thai authorities that led to the prosecution of a Thai man for historic hands-on abuse;
- Referred 87 victims of abuse for investigation to Thailand, Japan, China, US, UK, Turkey, Denmark, Venezuela, Peru, France, Russia, Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, South Africa and Brazil; and
- Contributed more than 20,000 media files to INTERPOL’s International Child Sexual Exploitation (ICSE) database, including adding 218 new series of abuse and providing additional material to 84 existing victim series.
Countries that attended the ACCCE hosted taskforces include Canada, US, Norway and New Zealand as well as representatives from INTERPOL and EUROPOL.
The AFP has also participated in international victim ID taskforces hosted annually by Europol since 2014.
These international taskforces allow experts with a variety of identification and intelligence skills to work together to scour seized child abuse material for clues about the identity and locations of victims and offenders.
Clues can come from the smallest details in clothing, furniture and other objects in the images or videos.
Images and videos can involve victims and offenders anywhere in the world, highlighting the importance of the AFP’s international partnerships.
AFP Acting Assistant Commissioner ACCCE and Human Exploitation Helen Schneider said international taskforces and partnerships were vital as it was often very difficult to determine where in the world a video or image had been taken.
“Victim ID taskforces are an opportunity to bring in other countries to share capability and capacity, which allows the specialists to focus on a particular theme, or high-value target, or set of images and come out with some really incredible outcomes,” Acting Assistant Commissioner Schneider said.
“It could be that one member of the taskforce has a particular skillset or picks up on a really unusual clue in a photograph that identifies where in the world the image was created and where the victim and offender could live.
“Particularly when previously unidentified material is found, there’s a great deal of urgency to identify the child victim(s) or offender(s) because there could be a child still at risk of more abuse.
“The AFP is tirelessly working with law enforcement partners in Australia and around the world to identify and protect children and bring to justice anyone involved in harming them.”
The ACCCE has also become a leader in victim identification training for Australian and international law enforcement partners.
In October 2022, the ACCCE released an online awareness training program on victim identification. More than 300 participants including child protection investigators from Australia, EUROPOL, INTERPOL, Denmark, UK, France and Norway have completed the program.
The ACCCE has also developed and delivered a one-week victim identification specialist training program, which was completed by victim identification specialists from New South Wales Police, Victoria Police, Queensland Police, South Australia Police and the AFP.
The AFP is urging parents and guardians to talk openly to their children this National Child Protection Week about online safety and the risks involved when sharing intimate images online.
“We urge parents or guardians to change the privacy settings on their child’s social media accounts to friends only or private to ensure they are not contacted by someone they don’t know. Location settings should also be turned off,” Acting Assistant Commissioner Schneider said.
“Children should also be encouraged to think critically about who they are speaking to online and the content they are live-streaming, as some can be saved and shared.
“Remind your child it is okay to say no and stop live streaming if something makes them uncomfortable.”
You can find more tips for staying safe online on the ThinkUKnow website.
The ACCCE is committed to stopping child exploitation and abuse and is at the centre of a collaborative national approach to combatting organised child abuse.
The Centre brings together specialist expertise and skills in a central hub, supporting investigations into child sexual abuse and developing prevention strategies focused on creating a safer online environment.
Support Our Journalism
Global Indian Diaspora needs fair, non-hyphenated, and questioning journalism, packed with on-ground reporting. The Australia Today – with exceptional reporters, columnists, and editors – is doing just that. Sustaining this needs support from wonderful readers like you.
Whether you live in Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States of America, or India you can take a paid subscription by clicking Patreon. Buy an annual ‘The Australia Today Membership’ to support independent journalism and get special benefits.