An Australian Federal Police-led investigation has smashed open a domestic online network of alleged child sex offenders, who are accused of abusing and exploiting Australian children and recording the horrific crimes to share with others.
Nine men in three States have been charged and at least 14 children have been saved from further harm, as a result of the national police investigation into individuals allegedly producing and sharing child abuse material.
Two men – aged 21 and 26 – from the New South Wales mid-north coast are the latest arrests in Operation Arkstone, which was launched in early 2020 after a tip-off from the United States’ National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children to the AFP’s Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE).
Yesterday (Thursday, 4 June), investigators from the Australian Federal Police (AFP) Eastern Command Child Protection Operations and the New South Wales Police Force Child Abuse and Sex Crimes Squad and Mid North Coast Police Area Command executed search warrants at premises in the towns of Kendall and Old Bar.
The 26-year-old man was charged with two counts of sexual intercourse with child under the age of 10 years, two counts of produce child abuse material and two counts of possess/control child abuse material using carriage service.
The 21-year-old man was charged with six counts of sexual intercourse with child under the age of 10 years and possess child abuse material.
Both men were refused bail and faced Kempsey Local Court today, where they were remanded in custody to appear at Port Macquarie Local Court on Thursday 10 September 2020.
Another seven men from NSW, Queensland and Western Australia have previously been charged as part of this investigation. The investigation began with the arrest of a man on the NSW Central Coast, and further analysis of material seized during that and subsequent investigations led to yesterday’s activity on the Mid North Coast.
Police allege that analysis of evidence seized during each arrest helped identify other suspected offenders.
AFP Assistant Commissioner for ACCCE and Northern Command Lesa Gale said police believe they have uncovered one of the biggest domestic child exploitation networks in recent times.
She said police would allege in court that some of the accused men had sexually abused children known to them and recorded videos and photographs of the abuse to share with others online.
“The efforts of all officers involved in the investigation has resulted in at least 14 children removed from harmful situations, and saved from abuse in the future,” Assistant Commissioner Gale said.
“We are continuing to try to identify other children who we suspect were preyed on by individuals in the alleged network.
“It is heartbreaking to think of any child being sexually abused, but it strengthens our resolve to hunt down perpetrators and bring them to justice.
“Sexual abuse has a devastating impact on children and their families, and that abuse continues each and every time an image or video showing that crime is shared.”
Assistant Commissioner Gale said the ACCCE, which is headquartered in Brisbane, uses a range of investigative techniques to help police across Australia track down anyone who preys on children – in person or online.
“Use of encrypted applications or systems will not enable you to stay anonymous – we have the capabilities and the will to track you down and arrest you.”
Detective Superintendent John Kerlatec, NSW Police State Crime Command’s Child Abuse and Sex Crimes Squad Commander said investigating heinous crimes such as these is a priority for all law enforcement agencies.
“The despicable acts that we will allege in court that these men have committed are punishable with life imprisonment, such is this seriousness of the offences,” Det Supt Kerlatec said.
“Along with our partnering agencies, NSW Police will continue to be relentless in our efforts to put people who sexually abuse children before the courts.
“We understand the trauma connected to these crimes, and we want victims to know if they come forward to report incidents, we will act swiftly and investigate thoroughly to deliver them justice.”
State police in NSW, Queensland and Western Australia have been working with the ACCCE and AFP on the investigation. Investigations remain ongoing and further arrests and charges have not been ruled out.
Members of the public who have any information about people involved in child abuse and exploitation are urged to call Crime stoppers on 1800 333 000.
You can also make a report online by alerting the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation via the Report Abuse button at www.accce.gov.au/report.
Access online safety information at https://www.accce.gov.au/resources