‘Terrifying’ way predators are targeting children
MONSTERS are real. They lurk in the dark, anonymous behind computer screens. They prey on children, the vulnerable.
The dark and seedy side of the internet is rife with those who create and share child abuse material.
The people who shine a light into the darkness and fight back against the monsters are up to the task, working to track down those who abuse kids, profit from their misery and share the horrific content.
Taskforce Argos Detective Inspector Glen Donaldson says police are working around the clock to find offenders - and victims - behind the "harrowing" child abuse.
"Every day officers are looking at what can only be described as harrowing images and videos of victims of child exploitation," Insp Donaldson says.
"Despite what many people would see as a job they couldn't do, each one of those images has a victim and the officers do what they do because they want to try to find that child and rescue them and find the perpetrator who has done that to them.
"What's surprising is the people who engage in this type of crime come from all walks of life.
"We're seeing professionals, people who are unemployed, parents - here is no section of the community that this crim type doesn't touch, which is very sad."
Insp Donaldson says a worrying trend is children being "sextorted'', in other words extorted into sharing more sexually explicit images of themselves.
"Scarily, kids are getting involved in conversation with people that they don't know and they're getting manipulated and tricked into doing things. Once they've taken one image or done something, the person then has control over them and we're seeing kids being sextorted into doing more and more grotesque things.
"We've had cases on video, where children are being extorted to do things, when there's a knock on the bedroom door, telling the kid dinner is ready. The parents are in the house and unbeknown to them the kid is being forced to do something online.
"When you think about that, it's quite terrifying.
"For whatever reason, they feel like they can't speak up and talk to their parents or an adult.
"The key to this is saying to your kids, no matter what you do or how stupid you think it is, come and talk. Tell me. Nothing is so bad that you can't come and tell Mum and Dad."
He says the hunt for groomers and paedophiles is a global one.
"Every day detectives from Argos are online in a covert capacity on a range of platforms including social media, peer-to-peer file sharing networks, the darknet, the freenet and the open internet, targeting predators who are attempting to exploit children.
"Argos also works with the AFP-led Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE) to help build the capability of other agencies within Australia and internationally to investigate computer facilitated child exploitation.
"Online child exploitation is a global problem. The borderless and complex nature of technology enabled crime means the QPS is committed to developing strong partnerships with other law enforcement entities to share intelligence through our unified commitment to the protection of children.
"Argos also plays a crucial role in the identification of victims through the review of child exploitation material which is seized from offenders. The Argos Victim Identification Team is made up of a number of international experts in the field of digital media analysis who work with partner agencies within Australia and across the globe to identify and rescue children."
Insp Donaldson says police are seeing more children self-produce child exploitation material and sending it out on their own.
"I think a lot of children are very naive. Some of the images start off as consensual, between young partners, without thinking that 'maybe this relationship isn't forever'. Once that person has the image, they've lost control of it.
"Under no circumstances should a child share an image that has been sent to them by their girlfriend or boyfriend. Not only are you breaching the trust of someone you care about, but sending a naked image of a person under 16 years of age is an offence punishable by 14 years imprisonment.
"If someone sends an intimate image of you without your consent, or even threatens to distribute an indecent image, it is an offence punishable by three years imprisonment. This offence also applies to intimate images of an adult."
He says parents need to play an active role in a child's education to keep them safe from predators.
"Parents play a crucial role in keeping their kids safe when they are online. Just as you would supervise your children when they are playing in a public park, the internet is no different.
"There are people online every day who are actively seeking to make contact with children to exploit them and unfortunately our children are often unaware on how to protect themselves.
"Children can also inadvertently be exposed to inappropriate content that you don't want them to see, which is why parents must consider where in the home your child is allowed to use an internet connected device."
Insp Donaldson says online gaming and unsupervised internet access can be when children are targeted.
"A young child should not be allowed to use an internet-connected device unsupervised, particularly alone in their bedroom. Police regularly come across cases where children have been tricked or blackmailed into taking indecent images or videos of themselves in their bedrooms, even when parents are at home.
"Online multiplayer games also pose a risk to children as they connect players across the globe. It's important to be aware that anyone can chat with your children while playing these games and predators do play these games solely for the purpose of making contact with children.
"Parents remain our greatest asset in helping protect our children online and they have an obligation to educate themselves on the risks children can face when online.
"Parents must remain engaged with their child's online lives and have conversations with their children to ensure that no matter what situation happens to their child, they feel comfortable in seeking help from a trusted adult."
Originally published as 'Terrifying' way predators are targeting children
*For 24-hour sexual violence support call the national hotline 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or MensLine on 1800 600 636.