Foreword by Commander Schneider
Welcome to the first newsletter for 2023, and my first edition as new Commander of the ACCCE. I would like to acknowledge and congratulate Hilda Sirec on her promotion to the rank of Assistant Commissioner. Hilda offered incredible leadership and dedication to the ACCCE and Human Exploitation Specialist Command and I feel privileged to continue this legacy.
By way of an introduction, I started my policing career with the Queensland Police Service 26 years ago. After 16 years I transitioned to the Australian Federal Police and have worked within Counter Terrorism, both domestically and internationally, Organised Crime and Learning and Development. Career highlights for me include working on the MH17 investigation, and my involvement in joint agency environments and taskforces. I am pleased to be able to bring this experience into the ACCCE.
The child protection environment is rapidly changing. One constant however, is the impact partnerships have in countering child exploitation, and I am looking forward to meeting many of our partners in the coming months. In April, I will be speaking at the Youth, Technology and Virtual Communities Conference where I hope to meet a number of you so please, if you are attending, come and introduce yourself.
As I read through this edition of the newsletter, I can see much work has been done in the spirit of collaboration, enhanced capability, interoperability and community confidence, and how together we are tackling the issue of child exploitation.
In particular, Tasmania has played host to a number of events recently including Operation Griffin, the final PartnerSPEAK workshop in a national roll out for JACETs and capability training to ensure, in collaboration, that law enforcement is well equipped there.
I encourage you to watch our first Face of the ACCCE for the year Scott Ralph, who takes us behind the scenes of our Intelligence Fusion Cell, and shares his career progression that ultimately led him to the ACCCE.
The media launch of the children’s book ‘Jack Changes the Game’ was a great way to broaden awareness of online safety. The book has now been distributed to every primary school across Australia. We have seen the book recognised by Dr Justin Coulson on the Happy Families podcast and by one of Australia’s most loved parenting authors, Maggie Dent.
I was pleased to see the results of the sextortion awareness and education initiative that the ACCCE undertook in partnership with state and territory police, reaching more than 700,000 people, specifically our youth. Measuring prevention is challenging but I can say we have seen a reduction in the number of victims making payments, and although we continue to see an increase in the number of reports, this allows us to ensure our specialist investigators are engaged and providing the necessary support to young victims.
I look forward to working closely with our operational and support teams across the ACCCE and broader child protection operations, so we can continue to deliver exceptional results to free children from exploitation.
Commander Helen Schneider
A farewell note from Assistant Commissioner Hilda Sirec
To all our wonderful colleagues and partners... and most importantly the community.
I have had the opportunity to reflect on my time within the ACCCE and feel absolutely privileged to be a part of the amazing ACCCE, and very proud of all the things we have achieved collectively. I reviewed the first ACCCE newsletter that I was a part of in March 2021 and what struck me was the amazing breadth and variety of work being done, all in the effort to protect children.
It is really hard to pinpoint one or a few particular moments that are highlights – as every time we raise awareness, every time we promote a strategy, every time we disrupt a criminal syndicate and every time we remove a child from harm – it is always a highlight for me. It completely reinforces our vision to ensure all children are free from online exploitation.
If I was told to pick a few of the moments, I would have to say firstly ensuring the ACCCE is sustained into the future, with the delivery of the ACCCE Strategic Plan 2022 to 2026; this gives us and our partners the pathway forward to keep working collectively to counter online child exploitation.
The second would be all the partnerships and friendships I have made with so many incredible people here in Australia and all over the world.
And thirdly, it would be knowing that the ACCCE is much bigger than one person, and the passion and drive will continue with the incredible people who work tirelessly to protect children.
I have met so many champions, advocates and heroes – whether it is behind the scenes ensuring our technology is optimal, pursing innovative ways to raise awareness or to our officers engaged with operational activity. Every single person who works within child protection is my enduring highlight.
I leave with sincere gratitude for all the connections I have made along the way, and for allowing me to be part of this amazing community. I know Commander Helen Schneider will be incredible for the ACCCE and I leave knowing it is in very wonderful hands. I look forward to continuing to be the ACCCE’s advocate in my new role as Assistant Commissioner Southern Command and and will love watching the wonderful work that will continue.
All the best, Hilda.
We want to hear from you
From time to time at the ACCCE, we assess our communication channels and we are currently reviewing the ACCCE Newsletter. We have a seven question, anonymous survey which will help us better understand what’s working and where we can consider some changes.
The survey should take less than 2 minutes to complete and closes on 21 April 2023.
You can access the survey here or by using the QR code above.
Tasmania child protection capabilities enhanced
Tasmania has been a hub of activity in the first quarter of 2023 hosting Operation Griffin, the rollout of the Australian Victim Identification Database (AVID), and receiving training by ACCCE stakeholder PartnerSPEAK.
Operation Griffin met in Hobart in February, bringing together all state and territory law enforcement along with representatives from the New Zealand Police, the Australian Border Force, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission and the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre.
Participants discussed the ‘Stop It Now!’ helpline trial in Australia, human trafficking, the Child Protection National Strategy, the ACCCE referral model and a trusted research environment for child sexual exploitation.
In February, the Tasmanian Joint Anti Child Exploitation Team (JACET) benefited from the AVID rollout by the ACCCE Technical Capability Unit. AFP and Tasmania Police JACET members received laptops and training to connect directly to the ACCCE network, providing faster data transfer and better video processing experience within the Griffeye Collaboration Server.
AVID provides a central database for Child Abuse Material (CAM) and related media for cross-jurisdictional law enforcement purposes, underpinned by international standards for the categorisation of CAM. AVID provides real-time updates and reduces operator exposure to unnecessary duplicate CAM media. Critically, it improves law enforcement opportunities to locate and rescue child victims of sexual exploitation and more effectively identify offenders.
PartnerSPEAK delivered their final law enforcement workshop in Tasmania, following a national rollout. Through the training, AFP and Tasmania Police participants gained further knowledge on improving outcomes and support for non-offending partners and affected family members.
Feedback from participants was positive, with one noting, “This is a fantastic service that is available and will also assist police… when police don’t get the time to provide this necessary information and help.”
UC capitals promote Jack Changes the Game
Building on the stakeholder event last year, University of Canberra basketball stars Alex Bunton and Britt Smart helped promote the children’s picture book Jack Changes the Game, using it to share an important message about online safety with their fans.
The UC Capitals players joined AFP Assistant Commissioner Hilda Sirec in January to share the book, which is a first-of-its-kind initiative for law enforcement.
Written by notable children’s author Tess Rowley and illustrated by Shannon Horsfall, the book was developed by the AFP’s ThinkUKnow program in partnership with the ACCCE.
Based on a real report to the ACCCE, the book gives age-appropriate advice on how to recognise online child sexual exploitation (including online grooming), how to respond and how to make a report to police.
Ms Bunton said the UC Capitals was “a family friendly club and we are fortunate to connect with a lot of young fans at our games. They have become our second family and we hope this book can help educate them, and all children, about online safety.”
Assistant Commissioner Sirec said the book was a powerful resource and one that will help families around Australia begin important conversations.
“Only around half of Australian parents and carers regularly talk to their child about online safety. With children spending more time online, it is important we teach them about safe practices and encourage help-seeking behaviours.
“Jack Changes the Game was created as a resource to start conversations with 5 to 8-year-olds in a simple, yet effective way,” Assistant Commissioner Sirec said.
The e-book of Jack Changes the Game is available at ThinkUKnow.org.au
Efforts to combat the rise in sextortion
The ACCCE and AFP-led ThinkUKnow teams are continuing to drive awareness and education of financial sextortion of under 18s.
Efforts to date have proven successful in raising awareness among children and young people with 5.8 million impressions reaching more than 1 million social media users.
The online blackmail and sexual extortion response kit was downloaded more than 3,800 times and posters were distributed to more than 3,500 schools. A new webpage dedicated to sextortion was developed and there was a substantial increase in visits to the ACCCE website and victim report page during the peak period of the campaign.
The campaign attracted high levels of media attention in print, online and broadcast publications, and featured on Dr Justin Coulson’s Happy Families podcast.
The ACCCE extends its gratitude to all supporters who shared our messaging to help raise awareness of this issue. The initiative also caught the attention of international partners, which is a fantastic result. The ACCCE will continue to raise awareness of key trends in the hope of disrupting these types of crimes.
ACCCE attends INTERPOL meeting in Lyon
The 39th Operational Meeting of the INTERPOL Specialist Group on Crimes Against Children meeting was held in Lyon, France in March.
The AFP was represented by Detective Superintendent ACCCE and Human Exploitation Jayne Crossling, and ACCCE Victim Identification Unit member Jonas Seider.
The meeting facilitates and enhances the investigation and prevention of sexual crimes against children, bringing together a strong network of global partners. The group identifies new trends and promotes new technologies and best practice.
Detective Superintendent Crossling provided a presentation about AFP and ACCCE efforts to disrupt the financial sexual extortion of children under the auspices of Operation HUNTSMAN, and co-hosted a panel with the UK National Crime Agency about transnational child sexual offenders. Jonas is also the co-chair of the DevOps working group where a range technical challenges and solutions were discussed.
“The annual INTERPOL meeting is an important pillar of this crime type. Having representation and an ACCCE representative to chair a sub-group continues to demonstrate Australia’s commitment to global collaboration,” Detective Superintendent Crossling said.
Prevention Stakeholder Day
This year’s first ACCCE Prevention Stakeholder Day was a great success, with the largest attendance on record.
Representatives from 25 stakeholder groups attended including the Daniel Morcombe Foundation, The Carly Ryan Foundation, Act for Kids, Bravehearts, ThinkUKnow, the Attorney-General’s Department, the eSafety Commissioner, and the National Office for Child Safety.
Discussions for the day were inspired by the themes at the Virtual Global Taskforce in London last year, attended by Assistant Commissioner Hilda Sirec and Acting Commander of ACCCE and Human Exploitation, Jayne Crossling.
The aim of the day was to start a conversation among government, industry, and non-government organisations about how Australia could follow the UK’s lead in the child protection space with presentations from Rachel Howorth, from the National Crime Agency, and Dr John Coyne, from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.
Acting Commander Crossling was the Chair for the day and encouraged open conversation among the attendees around what is required to maintain a spotlight on the issue politically and socially. The groups brainstormed to identify opportunities and challenges around research, policy, public awareness, industry reform, media and legal constraints relating to child sexual abuse.
The next Prevention Stakeholder Day is planned for October 2023.
Safer Internet Day
Safer Internet Day is a global event that brings together communities, families, schools and organisations from more than 170 countries to help create safer online spaces. The eSafety Commissioner leads Safer Internet Day efforts in Australia.
This year marked the 20th anniversary of Safer Internet Day, prompting reflection on the importance of online safety awareness. eSafety’s campaign encouraged Australians to ‘Connect. Reflect. Protect’ by using social media safely and positively; by considering the impact of actions; and by protecting ourselves and others – especially young people - by seeking advice from eSafety.
ACCCE supported the campaign through a billboard display on the day, social media and sharing messages about keeping children safer online. Additionally, parents and carers of children were encouraged to take part in eSafety’s informative webinars, available throughout the year. You can view the schedule and register here.
We look forward to joining eSafety next year for the 2024 campaign.
Dance for Daniel
Members of the ACCCE donned red apparel and attended the 18th annual Dance for Daniel earlier this month in support of the Daniel Morcombe Foundation.
The ACCCE has a long-standing relationship with the foundation and this year, executive AFP members in attendance included Assistant Commissioner Justine Gough, Assistant Commissioner Hilda Sirec, Acting Commander Jayne Crossling, and Detective Superintendent Frank Rayner, as well as the Attorney General’s Advisor, Michelle Howe.
The Dance for Daniel is the Foundation's major annual fundraising event and celebrates the organisation’s achievements throughout the year. Money raised from the gala event goes to creating free child safety resources and providing counselling for young victims of crime.
ABC Foreign Correspondent focuses on The Philippines
ABC Foreign Correspondent featured the efforts of AFP International Command in the Philippines to counter child exploitation earlier this month.
The Saving the Children documentary highlighted the AFP’s role as a co-founding agency and current Donor Board of Management partner of the Philippines Internet Crimes Against Children Center (PICACC).
The story highlighted collaborative efforts to find and rescue children who are being sexually abused in person and online.
Former US detective working with the International Justice Mission in the Philippines, Caleb Caroll, said “Covid brought everybody online which fuelled the crime type to grow. As a crime with no borders, the most serious offenders come from the United States and second to that is offenders from Australia.”
AFP Federal Agent Natalie Roesler, also working with PICACC, spent ten years working on child sexual abuse cases in Australia before moving to the Philippines 12 months ago.
“We have about 50 to 60 active cases at the moment,” Federal Agent Roesler said.
“Facilitators can be anyone that has access to children; people that live next door, people that know them and are close to them. Sadly, a lot of the time, the facilitators can be their parents.”
The ABC accompanied Philippine National Police and the AFP on an operation in Manila following intelligence provided by the AFP and Netherlands National Police. It led to the arrest of a Philippine-based child sex offender operating within the dark web.
International cooperation has been key to catching perpetrators and rescuing children. In another case, a single lead led to the location of 15 children and five facilitators. The Australian offender was imprisoned for 15 years for offences related to sexual activity on the internet. His youngest victim was three-years-old.
Over the past four years, PICACC has rescued nearly 600 victims and charged 120 facilitators. Of these, 46 suspects have been arrested/charged and 183 international victims rescued as a direct result of AFP (International Command) Philippines facilitating and adding value to referrals emanating from Australian-based investigations.
New studies aim to assist prevention and disruption
Online child sexual abuse is a challenge for law enforcement, policy-makers, child protection organisations and industry alike. The rapid expansion of the internet and related technologies has seen the availability and magnitude of child exploitation material grow exponentially.
The Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) has released results from two new studies that build knowledge on how best to tackle this serious issue using two different approaches.
The first study by University of Tasmania, How to implement online warnings to prevent the use of child sexual abuse material, recommended technical methods that multiple sectors could adopt to implement online warning messages for the prevention of child sexual abuse material offending.
It said the best approach required the cooperation of multiple actors within the technology industry, and the implementation of measures by account holders. The premise of this cyber-security-based approach is that, if a single layer of defence fails, the other layers of defence could still provide protection and prevent offending.
The second study, Advancing child sexual abuse investigations using biometrics and social network analysis, undertaken by the University of Adelaide, used an automated software system to extract and match biometric data (face and voice) across 455 child sexual abuse videos to identify and visualise networks.
Findings illustrated how this technology had the potential to enhance law enforcement investigations, including analysing social networks to identify which abusive videos to prioritise, without having to review and catalogue hundreds of different videos.
Further, biometric match data could be used to pinpoint key media files relevant to law enforcement investigations, and the automation of these tasks could dramatically reduce investigator workloads by reducing the need for manual review of all the media files. It also therefore decreased associated psychological harms.
While using different approaches, both studies will help inform the prevention and disruption of online sexual exploitation of children.
International Women's Day
AFP Detective Sergeant Claire Arnold was guest speaker at the annual Act for Kids International Women’s Day luncheon, where the theme for this year was #EmbraceEquity.
The event aimed to get the world talking about why "equal opportunities are no longer enough", with more than 100 people attending who shared a common vision for all children to have a safe and happy childhood.
Detective Sergeant Arnold shared her experience about being a female police officer over the last 20 years, and working as a child protection investigator. She spoke about what tactics she uses personally to teach cyber safety to her son, and gave advice to attendees on keeping children and young people safer online.
Funds raised at the event support Act for Kids’ Integrated Therapy Service, which helps kids who have experienced abuse and neglect.
ACCCE welcomes University of Queensland students
The ACCCE welcomed two new University of Queensland students, Harriet Passey-Fowle and Orani Jayarathne to the ACCCE this month. Each year, two Honours students from the University of Queensland Bachelor of Criminology and Criminal Justice Honours program work with ACCCE members to conduct research into online child abuse material offenders.
The research helps detail the crime type and provides recommendations for law enforcement and government to consider adopting or further investigating, while also informing prevention initiatives the ACCCE undertakes.
Harriet’s academic areas of interest include child protection, cybercrime, anti-corruption, and combatting family and domestic violence. She is excited to be exploring the topic of how online child sextortion, capping and grooming are conceptualised and portrayed within the Australian criminal justice system.
Onari has always been very interested in transnational crime and developed a recent interest in cybercrime. This prompted her thesis, which explores how the media is framing online child exploitation, specifically sextortion, grooming, and capping.
They are both very excited to be working with the ACCCE for their Honours projects and our members are looking forward to seeing the outcomes of their work. With the exponential increase in reports of online sexual exploitation, research is vital to inform our prevention and education measures.
Face of the ACCCE: Scott Ralph
Tell us about your role in the ACCCE
I am a Fusion Analyst and I work within the ACCCE Intelligence Fusion Cell, which comprises members from the AFP, Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC), Home Affairs and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC). Our team prioritise targets, secure access to new information sources and inform decision makers. I wear a different hat every few minutes, dictated by the highest priority at that point in time.
What are some of the areas you have worked in the AFP?
This is my first role in the AFP. Before the AFP, I was a soldier for ten years in the fields of surveillance and intelligence, I then worked in strategic intelligence for 20 years across various agencies in Australia and North America. About 18 months ago I decided to return to a Fusion Analyst role, and that’s how I found the ACCCE.
What are you most proud of in your career to date?
I was a key part of a small team that spent several years of exhaustive effort to build a new national intelligence support capability that grew to involve hundreds of dedicated staff. That capability routinely saved lives, received many awards, and allowed me to work with some amazing people. I would argue that we revolutionised the delivery of timely national intelligence support.
What skills are you eager to contribute to the ACCCE?
Driving capability evolution. Sadly, child protection will always be a high volume crime, but unless we commit the resources to develop and implement mature workflows that enable us to efficiently climb the offending ladder, we will not be positioned tomorrow to identify the maximum volume of contact offenders in the fastest time possible. We are moving in the right direction, but we have a way to go.
What would you like to achieve in the next 12 months within ACCCE?
I would like to enhance the flow of information across national child protection by optimising some key information bottlenecks.
Who do you look up to?
I have worked for some awesome leaders. All of those leaders had their shortcomings, but they were the right person, in the right job, at the right time. What made them truly awesome though was that they had smart hard-working people supporting them that were aware of those shortcomings and understood it was their mission to identify and fill those gaps so as not to detract from the leader’s impact. So the people I look up to are those smart and hard-working individuals that toil to ensure great outcomes.
If you could invite one person to work at the ACCCE, who would it be?
Anyone that is slow to respond to our requests for information. Because after a few days working in the ACCCE and seeing the cumulative impact those 30-day delays will have on child victims, we’d never have the problem of getting the information straight away again.
What do you enjoy most about working in Child Protection?
People are in this crime type to remove kids from harm, and it astounds me how often it happens. Personally, the most enjoyable part of Child Protection is that your actions result in a tangible outcome that you see within days to weeks. This helps constantly refine your approach and this is a really rewarding part of the job.
Words of advice for people concerned about online child exploitation?
Online child exploitation is evolving rapidly and it’s becoming more dangerous. A good example is sextortion for profit in which hundreds of kids every month are scammed by entities offshore. This is not a broad ‘Nigerian Prince’ email scam; this is one-on-one targeting of kids, sometimes by people that appear to be a school friend; by serious organised crime syndicates in developing countries, for the sole purpose of trying to isolate and then manipulate children into doing whatever the scammer wants.
Yes it starts with money, but leveraging these minors involves constantly ratcheting up the pressure to find new ways to make money from them, and the crime gangs have no limits. This scam is a lot bigger and more dangerous than you think; thousands of kids have already been caught up, and that concerns me. Please have regular conversations with your kids and report to the ACCCE if you are concerned.
For all upcoming events, head to accce.gov.au/events
The Queensland Police Service (QPS) Youth, Technology and Virtual Communities Conference will be held 26-28 April on the Gold Coast. 'Prevent, Protect, Prosecute’ is the theme of the conference, which this year will focus on ‘Disruption’.
ACCCE Commander Helen Schneider will speak about ‘the power of partnerships for success’. For more information visit www.ytvc.org.au
Secure your tickets now for the 2023 Bravehearts Ball, Saturday 27 May, Brisbane City Hall.
This year Bravehearts will be hosting a Great Gatsby-inspired glamour-filled evening to raise funds for the prevention and treatment of child sexual abuse.
Tickets are now available, in single as well as tables of 10 – don’t miss out!