New research conducted by Anti-Slavery Australia has for the first time brought together data, statistics and expert commentary to paint an alarming picture of online child exploitation.
The research team has found the rate of live-streamed abuse of children via webcam, as well as video and photographic depictions of abuse, is on the rise in Australia and globally. Figures from the Internet Watch Foundation show a rise in the volume of child sexual abuse imagery of 417 per cent between 2013 and 2015.
In 2015, a South Australian man was found to be the head administrator of a global network with an estimated 45,000 members. A year later, a young Victorian man was described as one of the biggest child pornography and “hurtcore” distributors in the world, with his websites attracting 3 million hits in three years.
A relatively new and disturbing practice known as live distant child abuse has seen Australian offenders going online and purchasing pay-for-view streaming of live child abuse in locations such as Cebu in the Philippines. Some of the research literature also suggests observers of online child abuse may go on to become perpetrators of child sex abuse.
The project was led by Anti-Slavery Australia, in the Faculty of Law at the University of Technology Sydney, and supported by a large research team from law firm Norton Rose Fulbright working pro bono to compile the data and contribute to the recommendations contained in the final report, Behind the Screen: Online Child Exploitation in Australia.
Anti-Slavery Australia director Professor Jennifer Burn said the research confirms how modern technology and ease of access to the internet have enabled this global crime pandemic.
“Offenders already have access to tens of thousands of images of child exploitation and abuse and demand is such that there will be further growth in the online child exploitation industry,” she said.
Other key findings include:
- A lack of uniformity in how child exploitation offences are described in state and federal legislation, and an absence of media guidelines to ensure consistent reporting of crimes
- Uneven, often inadequate sentencing of offenders across state and federal jurisdictions – project chief investigator Ian Dobinson said sentences for online child abuse material offences “often fail to take adequate consideration of the sometimes horrendous crimes that go to make up the images”
- The need for streamlined national and international frameworks and cooperation
- A piecemeal approach to education, training and prevention, with duplication between government and non-government organisations in some areas and a complete absence of programs in others
- State and federal police investigations hampered by the vague and largely ineffective “do your best” provisions applied to internet service providers (ISPs) – the ISPs’ “level of compliance for mobile data is about 20 to 30 per cent, which is disgraceful”, a senior officer with Queensland Police Taskforce Argos told the research team.
“The recent Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse clearly showed the long-term damage to victims over their lifetimes,” said Sally Treeby of the Rainbow Fish Foundation, which provided seed funding for the research.
“With evidence of this abuse expanding online, immediate action is needed to ensure there is no repeat of this dark and devastating history. We can’t say we didn’t know.”
AT A GLANCE
- Globally more than 150 million online images and videos depicting child exploitation processed by the US National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children in 2014
- 194 Australian children identified in online exploitation material (at 1 June 2016)
- 102 Australian offenders identified (at 1 June 2016)
- 11,000 referrals to Australian Federal Police in 2015
To read the full report, Behind the Screen: Online Child Exploitation in Australia, click here.