Australian federal police say livestreaming of children performing sexual acts marks ‘alarming shift’
Australian paedophiles are paying as little as A$15 for children to perform sexual acts online while being filmed in the Philippines, according to the head of the Australian federal police team in Manila.
Senior officer Andrew Perkins told Guardian Australia there was an “alarming shift” from previously more common types of “sex tourism” to “convenient and low-risk” online abuse of children which can be customised to the specific requirements of customers.
“It includes the development of live online sexual abuse in pay-per-view. Online child sexual exploitation is one of the most alarming forms of human trafficking in the Philippines,” Perkins said.
The English-speaking nation with a similar time zone to Australia has become a prime target for the country’s paedophiles. They are able to find their victims among poor families desperate to make a living. All they need is access to a webcam and the internet to livestream a performance, and access to a remittance facility to receive payments.
Perkins said Australian paedophiles paid anywhere from $15 to $500 depending on factors such as age of the victim, number of victims, number of viewers and the nature of the abuse.
“Combating child exploitation within Australia and offshore is a key priority for the Australian federal police,” Perkins said. The work is time-consuming and resource-intensive.
“Providing the required proof or probable cause for authorities overseas to action intelligence provided by law enforcement is often difficult,” he said.
Evidence collection is sometimes problematic because perpetrators have taken advantage of encrypted communications when purchasing shows. They also do not usually download or store the materials. Offenders may also purchase live adult shows, which is not a crime in Australia, in an effort to mask activities involving children.
Close cooperation between the AFP team in Manila and local counterparts has resulted in some success. Perkins said more arrests in Australia and the Philippines could be forthcoming following coordinated operations in both countries, where the arrest of an alleged paedophile in Sydney led to the rescue of a 12-year-old girl in the Philippines. The girl’s mother, who allegedly facilitated her exploitation, was also arrested.
The children are typically abused in the hands of family members or close friends but Australians have also been caught as facilitators in the Philippines. Peter Gerard Scully, dubbed “Australia’s worst paedophile,” once ran a cyber abuse ring in the Philippines. In 2018, he was found guilty of one count of human trafficking and five counts of rape.
The Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation was established in March 2018 to facilitate collaboration between federal and state governments, NGOs and the private sector in restraining paedophiles. Laws were introduced to cancel and seize passports of registered sex offenders, although Perkins said this is “likely to have increased the prevalence of Australian perpetrators exploiting children online”.
Banks were obliged to report transactions consistent with “child exploitation typologies” in an effort to curb production of child abuse materials by stopping payments that drive the crime. But the recentlegal action against Westpac raises questions about the compliance of Australian banks.
“The AFP can confirm it has been working with Austrac and is aware of the individuals with suspicious transactions which may relate to child sex offences,” Perkins said. “The AFP is currently assessing the matter. As such it would not be appropriate to comment further at this stage.”
In February, a centre was established in Manila to facilitate international cooperation. The Philippine Internet Crimes Against Children Centre brings together the Philippine national police, Australian federal police, UK’s National Crime Agency and US-based global anti-trafficking group International Justice Mission.
“The greatest weapon of the Philippine law enforcement in combating this crime is our strong cooperation with our foreign law enforcement partners. They refer cases to us, which we work on to arrest facilitators and rescue victims. Likewise, we also help them identify perpetrators from their end,” said Colonel Sheila Portento, chief of the Philippine national police division that deals with people trafficking.
The perpetual challenge for law enforcement is how to be a step ahead of perpetrators who are always devising ways to make sure their operations are undetected.
“We’re completely committed to lessen the threat that these [people] pose to children in the Philippines,” Perkins said.