Many Australian parents have spent endless hours reading Harry Potter novels to their kids, and are no doubt aware of the Cloak of Invisibility that allows Harry to magically disappear.
I can only imagine how many children wish they had their own Cloak of Invisibility.
But deplorably, some of the most abhorrent and dangerous criminals in Australia, and across the globe, already have that ability to be unseen – to commit their offences in the dark.
Online predators are reaching into our kids’ bedrooms using electronic devices. They are grooming our most vulnerable. They are creating and sharing horrific abuse material - all with their own invisibility cloak because encryption and the dark web keeps their identity a secret.
Locking the front door of our homes will not protect kids when they are on their devices.
Together, we need to do more.
The Australian Federal Police and our law enforcement partners are relentless when it comes to protecting our most vulnerable and hunting down these deviant predators.
The AFP will continue to work with government partners to ensure our powers remain fit for purpose so we can identify, disrupt and charge these offenders. We will ensure the investigative tools in our tool kit can help rip off those cowards’ cloaks – because we need to uncover these monsters for the sake of our children.
But we will also fully use the laws we have.
Under legislation, the AFP has the power to restrain the ill-gotten assets of drug dealers, fraudsters, bikies and organised crime syndicates. The funds from confiscated assets are directed back to the community through prevention, intervention and diversion programs.
The AFP-led Criminal Assets Confiscation Taskforce, known as the CACT, deprives offenders of the proceeds and benefits of their crimes – no person or criminal group is beyond their reach.
Now, we will go after the assets of paedophiles. It is truly sickening that offenders are profiting from the abuse, degradation and misery of children.
I make no apologies for using the full force and application of the law in our fight to lock these offenders away, and strip them of their tainted assets.
If a child sex predator is profiting or seeking to gain from the exploitation of children, their home, their car, their bank accounts and other assets are at risk of being seized by CACT’s team of litigators, financial investigators, forensic accountants and analysts.
The CACT is highly skilled at what they do, and are relentless and determined in their pursuit for justice.
Today, I can reveal the AFP and the CACT have recently adopted a new and aggressive criminal asset confiscation strategy specifically targeted at those engaging in the exploitation of children, and the CACT will make further announcements about the results of this strategy in the months ahead.
Between July 2019 and May 2020, the AFP laid 1078 Commonwealth Child Exploitation charges against 144 people.
But as well as identifying new cases, we are doggedly determined to de-anonymise offenders linked to previous crimes.
In 2015, a dark web child exploitation forum called The Love Zone was identified as having numerous Australian subscribers who paid to watch shocking abuse.
Across the globe, the forum had more than 45,000 users. It was one of the largest in the world.
Police launched Operation Rhodes, and got a break – but that is not always the case. When a search warrant was executed at home in Queensland police found an unlocked computer with a dark web browser open.
With the offender’s consent, Queensland Police took over his account and his identity for 18 months to access material to help rescue victims and map out the hierarchical structure. If offenders do not consent, we do not have the explicit authority to take over their accounts.
It was with extraordinary skill and dedication that officers identified a South Australian man as the head administrator of the forum.
The offender was later sentenced to 35 years’ jail for sexually abusing children in his care and running the dark net website. His victims were aged between 18 months and three years old.
Fewer than five Australians were charged under Operation Rhodes but the reality is there are many offenders still unidentifiable on the dark net. The AFP has a number of ongoing investigations into child sex predators on the dark web, but it can take years to identify just one perpetrator.
We will never give up in our fight to rescue the victims and unleash maximum damage to those who do our children harm.
But for parents we need you to help us. Please talk to you children and understand the technology they are using, and who they communicate with online.
Reece Kershaw is the Commissioner for the Australian Federal Police.