A large-scale Australian Federal Police-led investigation into a network of alleged child sex offenders has identified 46 Australian victims, including 16 from a child care centre.
New details can be outlined about Operation Arkstone, which has led to the arrest of 14 men on 828 charges of child exploitation, and bestiality charges related to four animals.
The alleged offenders are accused of producing and/or sharing child abuse material to an online network of Australian and overseas peers.
AFP investigators have worked tirelessly with their counterparts in New South Wales Police, Queensland Police Service, Western Australia Police, and U.S. Homeland Security Investigation to identify the alleged offenders involved in the online social media forums and stop them from causing further harm to the children depicted in the CAM.
Search warrants executed in NSW and Queensland on 3-5 November 2020, led to a further two men being charged with child abuse offences, bringing the total to 14 alleged offenders arrested under Operation Arkstone.
One alleged member of the network, a 27-year-old former child care worker in NSW, has been charged with multiple counts of contact offending, including sexual intercourse with a child under 10 years; indecent assault of a children under 16 years, and intentionally sexually touching a child under 10 years. He is facing more than 303 charges, which are due to be heard in Port Macquarie Court on 21 January 2021.
Police will allege the man used his position as a child care worker, and other deceptive means in his personal life, to gain access to 30 children.
The man’s partner, a 22-year-old man, also allegedly abused children his partner accessed through deceptive means in his personal life.
The parents and carers of all children enrolled in the child care centre were notified of an investigation. Operation Arkstone investigators have already made contact with the parents and carers of the victims in this matter. If parents have not been contacted by police, they are not within the scope of this investigation.
The AFP-led Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE) in February received a report from the US National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children about an online user allegedly uploading child abuse material.
The report led to an investigation by the AFP’s Eastern Command Child Protection Operations in Sydney, and a 30-year-old Wyong man was identified. He was arrested in February 2020 and has since been charged with 89 counts of child abuse charges, including alleged contact offending of two children.
Investigators delved further into the man’s activities and reviewed electronic evidence seized during the initial warrants. As a result, the AFP discovered social media forums where some members were allegedly producing CAM, while others were accessing and circulating the material. Evidence gathering at each arrest led to the unravelling of this alleged online network – each warrant led to the discovery of more alleged offenders and more children to be saved from ongoing abuse.
It sparked Operation Arkstone, which was set up to identify and arrest each of these alleged offenders trading material on these forums.
In June 2020, the initial results of Operation Arkstone to date were announced – with the arrest of nine men and 14 child victims identified.
Since then, the investigation into the online forums continued, with each arrest and analysis of the evidence finding connections to other alleged child sex offenders and more child victims to identify and remove from further harm.
The alleged offenders ranged in age from 20 to 48 years, with an average age of 28 years. The positions of the alleged offenders varied from a child care worker, volunteer soccer coach, disability support worker, through to an electrician, supermarket employee and chef.
The child victims ranged in age from 16 months to 15 years, with an average age of eight years.
Investigators have laid 577 charges against eight men in NSW and identified 39 child victims.
Police also laid 30 charges against three men in Queensland with one child victim identified, and 221 charges laid against three men with six child victims identified in Western Australia.
Bestiality charges were also laid in NSW in relation to four animals.
Operation Arkstone investigators identified links through the online forums to alleged child sex offenders residing in Europe, Asia, United States and Canada, and New Zealand, with 146 international referrals made as a result of this investigation.
The cross agency collaboration with HSI throughout Operation Arkstone has resulted in the arrest of three men in the United States for multiple CAM offences.
Investigators are continuing to examine the evidence and have not ruled out further arrests.
AFP Acting Commander Child Protection Operations Christopher Woods said the scale of offending uncovered in the Operation Arkstone network was unprecedented in an AFP-led operation.
“The dedicated investigators and forensic specialists from the AFP, NSW Police and HSI have spent most of 2020 working tirelessly after each arrest to piece together information that identified more victims and the people allegedly abusing and exploiting them. Victims were often identified through seemingly minor details in photos and videos – analysis that is time-consuming and painstaking, but vital to supporting the rescue of these children and the identification and prosecution of their abusers.
“No child should be subjected to abuse and violence from people who hold high positions of trust in their lives, whether it be a family member, child care worker or soccer coach.
“These men allegedly produced child abuse material for the depraved pleasure of their peers with absolutely no thought to the lasting effects their actions would have on these children.
“Police will allege Operation Arkstone revealed a network of abuse, where the alleged offenders in the forums encouraged and emboldened each other to engage in acts of depravity and abuse of children.
“What this highlights is that offenders are across age groups, occupations and are in positions of trust. Parents need to be vigilant about who has access to their children.”
HSI Attaché to Australia, Adam Parks said this predatory network spread their heinous activity around the globe believing themselves to be anonymous, but they were mistaken as today’s results clearly demonstrate.
“HSI is proud to work alongside our Australian partners and a global network of law enforcement professionals who work tirelessly to bring these offenders to justice, no matter where they may hide.”
NSW Police Force Child Abuse and Sex Crimes Squad Commander, Detective Acting Superintendent Chris Goddard, said the results of Operation Arkstone are a testament to the ongoing commitment and contribution of specialist police in protecting children across the country.
“NSW Police, together with our interstate partners, are working hard to ensure a strong and coordinated approach in targeting those that seek to abuse the most vulnerable members of our community.
“Together, we will continue to investigate serious child abuse offences in an effort to bring offenders to justice and ensure the safety of the public,” Det. A/Supt Goddard said.
The AFP will continue to work closely with its law enforcement partners to dismantle this network of child sex offenders and ensure no further children are subjected to the violence inflicted by these alleged offenders.