The Australian Federal Police has charged a 41-year-old Sydney man in connection to Operation Arkstone, which uncovered an Australian online network of alleged offenders accused of abusing children and sharing the abuse online.
The AFP-led investigation has so far resulted in 21 arrests in Australia, including 15 in NSW, on more than 1301 charges of child exploitation and bestiality, In addition, 55 child victims in Australia were identified and 11 animals were removed from harm.
Since the first Operation Arkstone arrest in February 2020, AFP investigators and forensic specialists have been examining the evidence from each arrest and identifying more alleged offenders linked to the network of online child sex offenders.
This ongoing investigation into the online network of alleged child sex offenders producing and sharing child abuse material with their peers on social media forums resulted in AFP officers executing a search warrant in the Sydney suburb of Surry Hills on Friday (17 September 2021), arresting a 41-year-old man for multiple child abuse-related offences.
AFP officers seized a laptop for further examination and a mobile phone allegedly containing videos of young children being sexually abused.
AFP Child Protection investigators and Digital Forensics specialists will allege they located instant messaging conversations on the man’s mobile phone about the abuse of young children, and details of an alleged payment for a person overseas to produce child abuse material under instruction from the man.
The 41-year-old Surry Hills man was charged with one count each of:
- Using a carriage service to solicit child abuse material, contrary to section 474.22(1)(a)(iv) of the Criminal Code 1995 (Cth);
- Possessing or controlling child abuse material obtained or accessed using a carriage service, contrary to section 474.22A of the Criminal Code 1995 (Cth);
- Using a carriage service to access child abuse material, contrary to section 474.22(1)(a)(i) of the Criminal Code 1995 (Cth); and
- Causing child abuse material to be transmitted to self using a carriage service, contrary to section 474.22(1)(a)(ii) of the Criminal Code 1995 (Cth).
The maximum penalty for each offence is 15 years’ imprisonment.
The man was refused police bail and scheduled to appear in Parramatta Local Court yesterday (18 September 2021). He is next due in court on 10 November 2021.
AFP Detective Sergeant Joel Wheeler said instant messaging applications and social media forums provide an easy avenue for child sex offenders to find and share child abuse material with their likeminded peers.
“The conversations and content produced and shared online about the abuse of young children is horrifically overwhelming,” Det. Sgt Wheeler said.
“AFP Child Protection officers and Digital Forensic specialists examine every conversation, video and image identified during a search warrant to find the child being abused and stop not only their direct abusers, but the other child sex offenders that fund this industry and help people profit from the atrocious end result.”
AFP investigators from Eastern Command Child Protection Operations arrested the first Operation Arkstone offender in February 2020, following a report to the AFP-led Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE) from the US National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).
Information provided by alleged offenders, as well as investigations conducted by the AFP and its partners throughout Operation Arkstone, identified links through online forums and messaging applications to alleged child sex offenders residing in Europe, Asia, United States, Canada and New Zealand, with 146 international referrals made.
Investigations into this network of child abuse are continuing.
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.
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.
If you or someone you know are impacted by child sexual abuse and online exploitation there are support services available, visit the ACCCE to learn more.
Advice and support for parents and carers about how they can help protection children online can be found at ThinkUKnow, an AFP-led education program designed to prevent online child sexual exploitation.