Looking into the future
Four years into the journey of the ACCCE and I can only be in awe of our achievements...
- 517 children removed from harm, 691 arrests, 6,104 charges laid, 95,153 reports received by the ACCCE triage unit and 2,020 referrals to Australian law enforcement.
- More than 115 stakeholder relationships to collaborate and share knowledge.
- More than 6.8 million social media users engaging with our awareness and prevention efforts.
These statistics are life changing... it is also hard work for our investigators, our front line of child protection working in the Child Protection Triage Unit, The Victim Identification Unit and Covert Online Engagement Unit and the Joint Anti Child Exploitation Teams on the ground...their work goes beyond that rewarding moment when a child is removed from harm, it continues, sometimes for years, through the judicial system.
To acknowledge the anniversary of the ACCCE and in moving forward from the initial government funding of $68.6 million, we released the ACCCE Strategic Plan 2022-26. The ACCCE consulted broadly with our partners which was critical in developing the Plan and I am looking forward to guiding the ACCCE into further success in the future.
National Child Protection Week, earlier this month, was an extremely busy week for our teams, with multiple events running across the week involving several stakeholders. We were fortunate to host the Attorney-General, the Hon Mark Dreyfus KC on his first tour of the ACCCE and able to share with him our work, along with the strength of our partnerships with law enforcement, the public sector and civil society.
During the week, we launched the ACCCE animation series to give the Australian community a better understanding of online child sexual exploitation. Interestingly, I was revisiting one of our key prevention partners, the Australian Childhood Foundation report released last year ‘Tracking Community Knowledge and Attitudes about Child Abuse and Child Protection in Australia’ and it made me reflect on the work we have ahead under our new Promote Pillar. If you have not had the opportunity to read the report, some key points that stood out for me are:
- Child abuse is rated less concerning than transport, traffic, and roads.
- 1 in 6 respondents believed that sometimes children are responsible for the abuse they receive from others.
- 69 per cent of respondents were worried about the possibility of their children being abused and exploited online.
- 1 in 6 respondents were uncertain or would be reluctant to report a child being abused or neglected even if they were sure of the facts.
In reading the report, I can see just how important the ACCCE animations are to increase awareness and education of online child sexual exploitation. I ask you all to share the animations everywhere to help raise awareness within your own communities.
We will continue to work hard across all teams of the ACCCE with the vision to free children from exploitation.
To acknowledge the anniversary of the ACCCE and in moving forward from the initial government funding of $68.6 million to establish the ACCCE, the ACCCE Strategic Plan 2022-26 has been released.
The strategic plan provides guidance on the role and operation of the ACCCE and was developed through a series of stakeholder workshops and broad consultation with our key stakeholders including non-government organisations, Australian government agencies and state and territory law enforcement over the past 12 months and has now been ratified through the ACCCE Board of Management.
The strategic plan complements the ACCCE Blueprint, the culmination of substantial design work undertaken by the AFP with partner agencies in the first year of its operation, which introduced the four pillars to Prevent, Prepare, Pursue and Protect children and vulnerable persons against exploitation.
The new plan introduces a fifth ‘Promote’ pillar recognising that the promotion of the ACCCE and its work is significant and has seen some exceptional results over the past four years in raising awareness within the Australian community and assisting in the enhancement of stakeholder relationships.
The vision and the mission have been updated:
Vision - Children free from exploitation
Mission - To be coordinated and connected with our partners to counter online child exploitation
Underpinning the five strategic pillars, we recognise the principle of ‘Partnership’ as a key enabler of the ACCCE mission - noting that Australia’s efforts to see children free from exploitation cannot be contained to any one organisation, jurisdiction or country. It requires a coordinated and connected approach where all agencies and partners can share information in a networked environment in order to build the required capability and response model.
View the ACCCE Strategic Plan 2022-26
The UK Permanent Secretary and Home Office visited the ACCCE in August to hear from subject matter experts and tour the facility. Close policy and operational collaboration with trusted allies is essential in tackling the prolific abuse of children shared on the clear and dark web.
Combatting child sexual exploitation and abuse is a priority for both the United Kingdom (UK) and Australia.
Commander ACCCE and Human Exploitation Hilda Sirec briefed the delegation on the alarming scale of the issue from an Australian perspective, the challenges around community awareness and how we work with our partners to tackle the issue. Commander Sirec also praised the commitment and passion of the people who work in the crime type.
“Our partnerships are the key to tackling this crime type. We look to what the UK is doing in this space, and it is impressive. We are fortunate to work closely with the UK National Crime Agency on several successful operations,” Commander Sirec said.
In September, acting Deputy Commissioner Operations Lesa Gale hosted a visit by the Attorney-General, the Hon Mark Dreyfus KC, in what was his first visit to the ACCCE.
“Today is a good opportunity to acknowledge the beneficial work jointly undertaken between our key partners here today and the ACCCE who are all working hard in the child protection space,” acting Deputy Commissioner Gale said.
The Attorney-General reiterated his support for the work of the ACCCE and our partners who commit to the fight against online child sexual exploitation, commenting on the strength of partnerships across law enforcement, the public sector and civil society in tackling child exploitation.
ACCCE and Human Exploitation Commander Hilda Sirec thanked the Attorney-General before inviting him to be the first signatory on the new ACCCE vision board.
The event coincided with National Child Protection Week and Bravehearts Day and was attended by representatives from Bravehearts, the National Association for Prevention of Child abuse and Neglect (NAPCAN), the Daniel Morcombe Foundation, Act for Kids, Neighbourhood Watch Australasia, YourTown and the Carly Ryan Foundation. All representatives attending were also invited to sign the ACCCE vision board.
ACCCE hosts fourth National Child Exploitation Legal Dialogue
Closing legislative gaps around online child exploitation was one of many topics discussed at the fourth National Child Exploitation Legal Dialogue, held at the ACCCE in July.
The dialogue provided a national platform to collaborate and exchange information, discuss trends, lessons-learned and opportunities for law reform as it relates to the current threat and emerging forms of online sexual exploitation of children.
ACCCE and Human Exploitation Commander Hilda Sirec reinforced the need to continually review our legal systems. “It’s important our legislative reform and framework is purpose built; so we can continue to make a difference, not only to investigators, but ultimately to children and bringing perpetrators to account,” Commander Sirec said.
Senior law enforcement officers from across the country came together at the ACCCE in July to discuss critical aspects of the Australian and New Zealand child protection landscape under the banner of the National Covert Online, Victim Identification and Operation Griffin Working Groups.
“The ability to build collaboration across the country means that the level of service to the community is so much better,” Victoria Police Detective Superintendent Jane Welsh, chair of Operation Griffin, said.
“It gives us an opportunity to come together and speak about the experiences we have. We exchange information and exchange ideas about how to innovate while managing this crime type.
Operation Griffin works in partnership with the ACCCE and is supported by several working level groups comprising of members from State and Territory police jurisdictions and Commonwealth agencies.
AFP provides insights to the Festival of Dangerous Ideas
Holding uncomfortable ideas up to the light and challenging public thinking on difficult topics was the aim of the Festival of Dangerous Ideas held in September.
With increased reports of online child sexual exploitation, it was a timely topic on the agenda as Australia faces an epidemic of the crime type.
ACCCE and Human Exploitation Acting Commander Jayne Crossling lent her expertise in the child protection field to the event as a panelist on harmful thoughts.
The session looked at the window for child sexual abuse prevention and discussed the earlier engagement with people concerned about their sexual thoughts and behaviours towards children, so that fewer children become victims in the first place.
“Law enforcement has traditionally struggled with the idea of offender prevention but given the increasing in offending we are realising that we have to start exploring whether early intervention is possible, with an evidence base,” Acting Commander Crossling said.
ACCCE and CPO members attend Online Child Sexual Exploitation Forum
Subject matter experts in online child sexual exploitation descended on Canberra in July for the Australian Institute of Criminology’s (AIC) Forum to combat a crime that crosses borders and all sectors of society.
Members of the ACCCE and AFP Child Protection Operations joined experts from law enforcement, academia, not-for-profit, policy, industry, and the financial sector, bringing their experience and knowledge to the group.
Attendees worked together to identify gaps and develop solutions to tackle the online sexual exploitation of children here and overseas, learning more about child sexual abuse material offending, the online solicitation of children and first-person produced (or self-generated) sexual imagery.
‘It’s a Penalty’ report launches in the Pacific
It’s a Penalty, a UK-based non-government organisation, launched a new report in July that analyses aspects of Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (CSEA) across the Commonwealth of Nations, prompting a discussion on the reforms we can make to protect children in Australia and the Pacific.
Members from the ACCCE, and AFP Child Protection Operations and Human Trafficking contributed to a whole of government response to the Australian chapter of the report. ACCCE and Human Exploitation Commander Hilda Sirec was a panelist at the launch and spoke about the prevalence of the issue in Australia.
“We have to keep PACE. We have to ensure we have Prevention initiatives in place. Continue to drive Awareness on this issue. Collaboration is key, and we need to Educate people that this is a whole-of-community problem and needs a whole-of-community solution,” Commander Sirec said.
The event was attended in person and virtually by members of government departments including Home Affairs, Education, and the Attorney-General’s Department, as well as the Human Rights Commission, not for profit organisations and various corporate and law firms.
34th Dallas Crimes Against Children Conference
For the first time, the AFP was invited to speak at the internationally renowned Dallas Crimes Against Children Conference in the US. Investigators from the AFP, along with Philippine National Police (PNP) provided insights into joint international efforts that saw 15 young child abuse victims in the Philippines removed from harm, the imprisonment of two Australian men, and the arrest of five alleged female facilitators.
AFP members were among 5,500 attendees at the global conference, hosted by the Dallas Children’s Advocacy Centre, which provides practical and interactive instruction to those fighting crimes against children and those who provide support to survivors.
Participants learned from experts and international law enforcement agencies through workshops and cases studies. There were networking opportunities with organisations involved in groundbreaking technology and direct access to social media companies.
Carly Ryan Foundation CEO, Sonya Ryan, made a keynote address to the conference. Ms Ryan said it was an honour to represent her daughter's legacy and said she was reassured by the dedication and determination of officers who bore witness to the unnecessary suffering of children every day.
“I am in awe of the hours they spend investigating the crimes we wish didn’t exist,” she said. “I want to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of them for the work they all do to help protect the lives of innocent children.”
National Child Protection Week is run by the National Association for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (NAPCAN) in September every year across Australia. The week was officially launched at Government House by NAPCAN Patron and Governor-General, David Hurley, and keynote speaker, National Children’s Commissioner Anne Hollonds. Commander ACCCE and Human Exploitation Hilda Sirec and Detective Superintendent Jayne Crossling attended the event on behalf of the AFP and ACCCE.
Detective Superintendent Crossling said NCPW is a wonderful opportunity to show all Australians the work being done by the AFP, ACCCE and our partners to protect children every day. “Of course, our work in child protection continues well past this week and the volume is unrelenting.
“We’re fortunate to have built such close relationships with our partners, working together to reduce the exposure and impact of the criminal environment on our children,” Detective Superintendent Crossling said.
During the week, the ACCCE encouraged all members to engage in several events to help raise awareness about child protection.
The ACCCE was pleased to host the Daniel Morcombe Foundation (DMF) in August for their Changing Futures and National Forum workshops which build the national knowledge base around children’s healthy, problematic, and abusive sexual behaviors.
The Changing Futures Forum discussed research, findings, best practice and future directions in detection and prevention within a community of practice on harmful sexual behaviors. The event was attended by a range of stakeholder agencies from across Queensland, who came together to collaborate, establish connections, and continue the commitment of DMF to Keep Children Safe.
ACCCE and Human Exploitation Commander Hilda Sirec said programs like this are an important prevention initiative to recognise and change the future of the next generation of offenders.
“The education of our front-line workers today will directly impact the future work of the ACCCE and our law enforcement partners. For this reason, it is so important that we amplify the message where we can,” Commander Sirec said.
PartnerSPEAK was formed as a direct result of the need to provide support and advocacy for the forgotten victims of child sex offenders - their partners, and their families.
In August, PartnerSPEAK delivered training and a dialogue at the ACCCE to operational members. It was a chance for AFP Child Protection Operations, Joint Anti Child Exploitation Team leaders as well as members from Queensland Police Service to learn more about the organisation and test-run training due to roll out nationally.
“It’s been invaluable to have the exchange of information between our operational members and PartnerSPEAK which will inform and support the roll-out of face-to-face training to law enforcement across all Australian police jurisdictions,” ACCCE and Human Exploitation Detective Superintendent Jayne Crossling said.
The agenda focused on the current state-by-state process for referrals to PartnerSPEAK; a trial for Melbourne and Brisbane for peer support for affected family members post-warrant execution; an overview of the reporting conducted by PartnerSPEAK; and the process around PartnerSPEAK and AFP’s engagement when further evidence is found by affected family members.
ThinkUKnow attend EduTech
Members from the AFP Online Child Safety Team recently attended both the National Education Summit in Brisbane and EduTECH in Melbourne to engage with educators about the ThinkUKnow program.
The team hosted a stall at the events and were gladly joined by ThinkUKnow partners, Queensland Police Service and Victoria Police members to provide online child safety advice.
At the National Education Summit, Senior Prevention Officer Danielle Broster delivered a presentation offering key information on ThinkUKnow and the program’s educational resources about how to keep young people safe from online child sexual exploitation. The session included a real case study, top tips on safe online behaviours and how to seek help.
The team spoke with hundreds of educators, many eager to request presentations for their schools and organisations. For more information and resources about preventing online child sexual exploitation or to request a presentation, visit www.thinkuknow.org.au.
The ACCCE hosted a morning tea in September for BIG Outdoor, a Queensland billboard company, to thank them for their contribution to promoting the Stop the Stigma campaign for free across Queensland. The campaign image was displayed on the company’s billboards 721,664 times between 20 December 2021 and 27 February 2022.
AFP Deputy Commissioner Operations Brett Pointing attended the morning tea event and presented BIG Outdoor with a plaque on behalf of the AFP as a token of appreciation. The Stop the Stigma campaign was launched in late 2021 by the ACCCE and urges Australians to open the discussion about child abuse even if they find it uncomfortable. BIG Outdoor’s promotion of the campaign continues to raise awareness of the campaign, encouraging important conversations to take place and in turn helping end child exploitation.
Deputy Commissioner Pointing thanked BIG Outdoor, saying “we value this partnership. Making these connections and forming partnerships with all sectors is imperative to our work. We simply cannot achieve what we do without the support of different groups in the community.”
To find out more about the Stop the Stigma campaign at accce.gov.au.
The ACCCE has released three animations to better educate Australians around what constitutes online child sexual exploitation (OCSE) and exactly how and where to report OCSE in Australia.
ACCCE market research found that confusion exists about the definitions and risks of OCSE in Australia, with many indicating they did not know what constitutes OCSE or ways to help prevent these crimes from happening to their children.
The animation series targets parents, carers, and educators in the hope that a better understating of the crime will encourage adults to start a conversation with children at an early age.
Alarmingly, 38 per cent of people aged 8–17 have admitted to talking to strangers online, yet only 52 per cent of parents openly talk to their children about online safety.
ACCCE and Human Exploitation Commander Hilda Sirec said OCSE is a significant issue, yet sadly many parents and carers do not know how to explain the severity of the crime to their children or where to turn to for advice and support.
The Closing The Net podcast has taken out another award, winning the Branded Podcast of the Year category in the second annual Radio Today Podcast Awards of 2022.
Well done to everyone that contributed to this important initiative to raise awareness within the Australian community and beyond!
The ACCCE has been fortunate to have the opportunity to recently embed New Zealand’s Lead Online Investigator for Digital Safety into its Covert Online Engagement Unit.
The Inspector works for New Zealand’s Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) and previously with the NZ Police, Online Child Exploitation Team. He is recognised internationally as an expert in covert online engagement.
“For more than 20 years, Australia has benefited from the operational relationship that we have maintained with DIA investigators. This partnership has resulted in the dismantling of complex child sex offender networks, the identification and removal of multiple child victims and the arrest of high value offenders,” ACCCE Operations Manager Inspector Jon Rouse said.
Tell us about your role in the ACCCE
I am currently the Acting Sergeant of the Child Protection Triage Unit (CPTU). CPTU receives most of the incoming reports to the ACCCE. Last year we received approximately 33,000 reports. We triage these reports to identify the high priority matters and conduct checks to identify the suspect and their location. Once identified we refer the matter to the Joint Anti Child Exploitation Team (JACET) located in the jurisdiction where the suspect is located. We receive reports from many sources including the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), international policing agencies, members of the public and Australian organisations.
What are some of the areas you have worked in the AFP?
I first commenced work in Child Protection in 2015 which was prior to the ACCCE being established. I have been a Family Investigation Liaison Officer (FILO), and worked in the AFP Operations Coordination Centre, People Smuggling, Drug, Fraud, and money laundering Investigations.
What are you most proud of in your career to date?
The ACCCE. The work conducted in the ACCCE and Child Protection is extremely rewarding for me. I feel as though I am making a difference in helping to make kids’ lives safer.
What would you like to achieve in the next 12 months within ACCCE?
I would really love to see the number of reports that we are receiving go down. Unfortunately, I do not think that will happen.
If you could invite one person to work at the ACCCE, who would it be?
If every parent could spend one day in the ACCCE, they would be shocked to see how easy it is for offenders to contact children online. If parents could see that then they would have a better understanding of how to keep their kids safe online.
What do you enjoy most about working in Child Protection?
I enjoy working in this crime type as I feel as though by doing this work, I get to make a difference and to help make our society safer for kids. All the people I work with have similar reasons for working in this crime type, so everyone is very motivated and eager to help identify these offenders and refer them to the JACETs. The people that I worked with are awesome.
Words of advice for people concerned about online child exploitation?
Know what apps your children are using and ensure they are in the recommended age range for those apps.
Know the security features of the apps and ensure the apps are set to the highest security setting possible.
Ensure all their online friends are people that they have met in-person, know and trust.
Turn locations settings off.
Teach your children about online safety and develop a strong relationship with your child so if anything happens to them online they know they can come to you for help.
Teach your child how to report matters to the app they are using. Teach them how to block the person and report any child exploitation matters to the ACCCE.
For all upcoming events, head to accce.gov.au/events