Alarming rise of child sextortion
An 11-year-old boy was rescued by police in Austria last week, a couple of months earlier it was a five-year-old in Barcelona and before then, several children and a baby from an orphanage in Malaysia.
But the Australian police unit whose investigations led to these offshore rescues say the most at risk of child abuse are right here in Australia, with multiple current undercover operations identifying an alarming rise in predators targeting our kids.
And most of those children being groomed or abused are not necessarily from vulnerable homes and circumstances but rather middle class homes and right under the noses of their parents with one in four children online now talking to a stranger.
"There has been an increase in people exploiting our children and as we come up to Christmas holidays, anytime kids are going to be online more, then offenders go online more and there is an increase on the referrals we receive, the complaints we receive," Detective Inspector Glen Donaldson told News Corp Australia.
"It really is scary. That's why it is the parents we look to, to be our first line of defence."
Task Force Argos is already recognised as one of most successful online child exploitation and abuse combating police units in Australia but is now receiving regular plaudits overseas for its undercover investigations.
Notably, the two most recent outcomes in Austria and Spain were being held up last week by Europol as exemplary detective work begun by the Queensland Police-based unit to unearth child sex abusers from videos circulating on the dark web here, that led to children being rescued overseas.
Insp Donaldson said it was unfortunate this sort of crime knows no borders and strong overseas partnerships with law enforcement and non-government organisations were essential to fight the crime and victims identified from outside the jurisdiction was a "regular occurrence".
New figures obtained by News Corp Australia show the Queensland Police based unit resulted in 126 offenders arrested on 851 charges with 282 children removed from harm nationally and internationally.
More than 1200 investigative police briefs were also referred to other law enforcement forces.
But as well as actual abuse Argos has noted an alarming rise of sextortion of children with one in four young people contacted by a stranger online in the past 12 months.
"These are startling figures when you look at how many of our children have unsupervised access to the internet and whilst they are probably more mature than us at that age, they are still children and still don't understand these 'friends', these people who are portraying themselves as another 14-year-old may not be," Insp Donaldson said.
"It is really important parents have those conversations not just speak about the dangers but that nothing is too embarrassing that you can't tell mum or dad.
"We see quite often children that are tricked into taking photos of themselves and they get blackmailed and they're embarrassed to tell their parents and that blackmail escalates into more obscene acts that they have to commit … they sextort them not for financial gain but for more obscene material and that material is then traded online," he said.
"We've seen instances of video where children are doing certain acts to themselves and you hear a knock on the door and a parent yelling out 'dinner time'."
Argos go on the dark web and normal social media armed with local court-issued warrants to go undercover online posing as both a child and or fellow perpetrators.
Originally published as Alarming rise of child sextortion