Back in January, SA Police established a special internet child exploitation unit to tackle the rise in internet predators and the growing trade in sexual images involving children.

Would you leave them unsupervised in the street? Pic: Jamie Hanson

To date, the unit has made 21 apprehensions and is investigating another 68 cases. (This often means they’re ploughing through seized computer hard drives for images – one hard drive a few weeks back contained 1.2 million photos.)

On average, three South Australians have come under the unit’s spotlight each week, often for possessing what’s commonly known as “child pornography”. That’s pretty alarming in itself, but it’s not the worst statistic in this repulsive and spreading scourge.

In just seven months, the investigations of the new SAPol unit have led to 10 children being removed from their homes in South Australia and interstate.

That’s little South Australian kids on your street or in your neighbourhood being allegedly abused or used in vile imagery that even hardened SAPol officers are too squeamish to discuss.

I thought I’d research online “child pornography” after reading about the growing number of high-profile cases.

When I started talking to academics and police, I was struck by my own naivety on the extent of the problem, and became aware that as a community we’re underplaying the issue because it’s simply too confronting.

The term “child pornography” is perhaps losing its power to shock as ‘porn’ becomes more mainstream (take ‘mummy porn’ best-seller, Fifty Shades of Grey).

And “child porn” certainly doesn’t do justice to the full extent of horrors that sometimes take place in these photos: little school kids, toddlers and babies being raped – and not always by humans.

As one academic told me, perpetrators are not viewing photographs and video footage. They are looking at crime scenes. “And these crimes wouldn’t be committed if people weren’t buying and viewing them.”

Apparently many offenders acquire them – and even create them - to build their “collections”, to share their hobby with like-minded people. Grotesque.

SAPol officers never use the term “child pornography”. They call it “child exploitation”. And the new internet child exploitation unit’s primary focus is not seizing photographs on computers, it’s protecting children.

Detective Inspector Peter Dunstone from the Sexual Crime Investigation Branch says it’s time we SA parents wised up about protecting our own children, too.

He recently warned parents against using mobile phones to upload photos of kids to social media sites with location information. Why? Because paedophiles are window-shopping on the internet.

By accessing freely available “geo-tagging” data (generated by your phone’s camera setup), these perpetrators locate where your children live, go to school and play.

And then there’s the online games. No matter how young your children are and how innocent their internet games might seem, if they’re able to chit-chat to other game users, it’s possible they’re interacting with predators.

As Det-Insp Dunstone says, “You wouldn’t leave your child in Hindley Street at 4 o’clock in the morning with their teddy - so why would you leave them unprotected on the internet?”

Meanwhile, despite increasing media reports of child exploitation cases, many believe sentences aren’t tough enough.

One academic told me alleged offenders often plead guilty to avoid the most graphic images being shown in court. If they’re rich enough they bring in “expert defence witnesses” to excuse their crimes on factors like medication or stress.

He said this, coupled with our own squeamishness and the media’s subsequent reluctance to divulge confronting details, means sentences are often insufficient.

As I see it, we need to do two things.

(1) Stop with the lame excuse about not being internet-savvy. We need to take as much control when our kids are online as when they’re playing beside a busy road.

(2) When we read about “child pornography” cases, we need to remember the horrendous crimes committed against children for the sexual gratification of creeps keen to build their online “collections”.

And if you think sentences are too lenient – speak up.

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32 comments

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    • Babylon in Canberra says:

      06:54am | 29/07/12

      “toddlers and babies being raped – and not always by humans.”
      Appalling! I have no idea what the sentences are but I firmly believe they are too lenient.

      Everytime you think you’ve got a handle on the dark depths some human souls plunge, there is always something new, like this article, that shows there is a few more metres to go yet.

      ” to excuse their crimes on factors like medication or stress.”
      There can be no mitigating circumstances surely, it is the ultimate betrayal, the ultimate act of depravity.

      Best argument for the return of the death penalty.

      I wish I had not read this article.

    • M says:

      07:19am | 30/07/12

      Classic. I have no idea what they are but I’m morally outraged so they should be increased anyway.

      Thank god the justice system isn’t run by popular opinion.

    • Mik says:

      08:57am | 29/07/12

      Regardless of their excuses, they are still dangerous to little children. There are no excuses for child abuse.

    • Lisa says:

      09:26am | 29/07/12

      Babylon in Canberra I agree 100%.  However, everyone should read this article so they know what these creeps are doing to our children.  The scary thing is that these creeps live in our streets, are our work colleagues, are someone’s family, friend…...........

    • yobogod says:

      10:05am | 29/07/12

      there is also the oft ignored topic of:
      what happened to the perpetrators to make them think that what they are doing is “normal”.
      we’re they abused as children and are now playing out their abuse on others?
      Is it a congenital mental health issue?
      Could it even be possible that there are genetic markers for this?

      Of interest: younger male penguins have been observed committing infantile rape, gang rape and murder, as well as necrophilia, and the more mundane violent rape of mature male and female members of a colony.

      Our squeamish and often emotional ideals prevent us from looking at the issue with any sense of rational disassembly.

      Child abuse, with its destructive recreation of perpetrators from victims could be seen to be a deep set societal problem, perhaps anchored within the societies’ mindset towards sex, sexuality and sexual activities in general.  The incidence of sexual child abuse in societies that embrace the human condition and its mammalian sexual practices, is to my understanding, less then in many civilised countries/regions.

      and of course, this is all conjecture on my part… but the point here is to get the conversation rolling, is it not?

    • Warwick says:

      01:17pm | 29/07/12

      Yobogod, you seem to have a lot of scientific knowledge of “human behaviour” but no understanding of the art of living.
      This situation doesn’t need more Sheldon Coopers.

    • Babylon in Canberra says:

      02:30pm | 29/07/12

      That’s the sort of thing the Looney Left would do on the basis that these Devils are the ‘true victims.’

      Not interested in any research that in anyway justifies the ultimate act of depravity and provides a comfortable path to freedom for these evil Devils.

      All our efforts should be focussed on the true victim, the child.

      Organising “toddlers and babies being raped – and not always by humans” is not ‘human’ behaviour in my book.

    • Lloyd says:

      05:48pm | 29/07/12

      I agree. It is pretty obvious that there is no creature lower than a paedophile. But why do they do it? There needs to be studies done and find out why they do these awful things. Obviously it is such a controversial topic but clearly it does happen so lets find out why and try to stop it from happening in the future.

    • egg says:

      10:57am | 30/07/12

      @Babylon, good plan! Ignore the research into the causes behind it, because who wants to prevent this type of thing in future? We just want to punish the bad guys, right? Ooooh, the devils! Burn them, it makes everything better!

    • egg says:

      10:58am | 30/07/12

      @Babylon, good plan! Ignore the research into the causes behind it, because who wants to prevent this type of thing in future? We just want to punish the bad guys, right? Ooooh, the devils! Burn them, it makes everything better!

    • Dave says:

      02:21pm | 30/07/12

      @ Babylon.  Presumably, by ascribing tolerance of child abuse to “the looney left” you are going to have to ignore the fact that it has been rampant within and protected by the most conservative organisations in our community.  Did your mate Mr. Abbott raise your Ire when he recently cautioned about being too tough on the Catholic Church for protecting child rapists ?  Think not, somehow.  As to research - Deterrence rarely works to shut down someone’s fundamental sexual programming, and punishment by definition only applies once the tragedy has happened. Finding out how to detect, treat and prevent offending sounds like a good idea to me.  Not as satisfying as squealing your cheap outrage from the rooftop, perhaps.
      { http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-04-18/abbott-warns-against-singling-out-catholic-church/3957962 }

    • TracyH says:

      10:05am | 29/07/12

      What depresses me is the extent of it…in the past, society could reassure itself that it was a rare minority of sick men (and women) who abused children. It wasn’t rare, but we just weren’t exposed to that fact. Now knowing the extent of this behaviour should surely awaken us all to the fact it is not rare…and we must stand together in vigilance. We need a movement, like the White Ribbon movement, to declare, vocally, that as a society we will not toerate, excuse, or turn a blind eye to this horrific reality.

      News Limited’s campaign against senseless violence is a good start to vocallising the disgust of the majority about our young dying needlessly from aggression…next up should be a campaign against child exploitation (and rape). It needs to be a common discourse that we as a society should be discussing regularly…not turning away from.

    • Seaside writer says:

      10:17am | 29/07/12

      Child predators should be considered the worst of the worst crimminals, the laws need to be changed to protect the victims, not the interest of the perpetrators. A sad analogy, but it wasn’t until Australia saw the horrors of the treatment of our livestock in Indonesia that we made enough noise that politicians had to sit up and take notice. Perhaps we need to hear (or see in a court of law) how horrific this is for harsher penalties to come into play.

    • Anjuli says:

      10:42am | 29/07/12

      @ Yobogod
      There is no excuse for any abuse, child abuse most of all,this is one subject I and others feel very passionate about.All these people should be put on a desert island so they can die a long and painful death.  Society is becoming worse in all areas because of the lack of discipline and harsh sentences we should have no tolerance laws.

    • ?? says:

      11:30am | 29/07/12

      as much as you want children to enjoy a life of carefree play out and about, its articles like this that put the fear of god in your heart. its always when you let your defences down slightly, that some vile piece of vermin can be around to take advantage.

    • Cry in my Gin says:

      11:33am | 29/07/12

      A recent Fench movie called “Polisse” about the day to day running of the child protection unit of the Paris police scared the crap out of me. I went home and hugged my kids. It is all based on true cases. Recomended viewing for anyone wanting a glimpse of the darkness that we as humans cannot seem to get rid of in our communities. If reading this article made you sit up and take notice, make the effort to see Polisse. You will hug your kids.

    • Cry in my Gin says:

      11:46am | 29/07/12

      I recently seen a French movie called “Polisse”. I went home and hugged my kids. It is all based on true cases in Paris, and revolves around the day to day runnings of the child protection unit in that city. If this article shocked you, Polisse will slap you in the face. You will go home and hug your kids.

      Death to kiddy fiddlers.

    • Robinoz says:

      11:52am | 29/07/12

      The problem of “grooming” of underage females has become prevalent among a religious group in the UK, Canada, France, Sweden, Norway and is no doubt being practised in Australia too although more covertly.

      Responsible parents need to keep good communication channels open with their kids, provide sex education sooner rather than later and inform them about these issues. Unfortunately, childhood (especially for females) is becoming a shorter and shorter period.

    • andye says:

      01:14pm | 29/07/12

      We all talk about harsh penalties because these crimes make our blood boil. The sad irony is that this must give the underworld of paedophiles even less to lose and make it a higher stakes game. What I mean is - it is like how if you have committed one murder, you are more likely to commit more murders to cover up the first. It is a dive in or stay out situation. I think if there are groups still surviving with the efforts put in to stop them, that they much be becoming more sophisticated, and probably more brutal in the protection of their secrets. Like prohibition, it actually gives increased power to those few groups who can evade our efforts.

      We need to figure out why people grow up into adults that do these sorts of things, We need to try to eradicate that from our society, even as we get rid of the weeds that are preying on us now. Can we look at a troubled child now and make changes to stop them growing into a predator? I’m not going to deny anyone a “lock em up” rant (in fact, ill help turn the key) but I fear this isn’t a solution, just a band aid over some sad f***ed up corner of human nature. :( we need to ask the hard questions of ourselves as to why some of us are this way.

    • T says:

      02:03pm | 29/07/12

      I agree Andye,

      I was abused as a child and I have always known the man who abused me would have done it regardless of the laws and repercussions. Mainly because these people are SICK. But also because society as a whole would like to hide from these sorts of things, which gives them means to hide it. I know this first hand, it is the truth. We need to educate ourselves and get involved in discussions so they don’t get the chance.

      I have always grown up scared I would turn out to abuse children myself as I have always heard the abused turn into the abuser. But I now know this isn’t always true, there is something else inside that isn’t right for adults to do this to children. Just saying, ‘oh well they were abused themselves so that must be it’ won’t work. We need to find out more. This will only happen if we talk about it more and put pressure on those who can find out why these people abuse children.

    • Babylon in Canberra says:

      04:58pm | 29/07/12

      By extension of Andye’s thought processes, instead of punishment, if we seek to understand the reasons why the Depraved individual did what he did and learn to appreciate that he is the victim too, we will see less and less crimes against children. The idea is punishment of these actions will perpetuate more such crimes and drive the crime underground.

      This is an example of Looney Left thinking, that first emerged in 1970’s Britain. Where we saw extensive sensorship of children’s classic books and the birth of none racist maths.

      Punchers can verify for themselves by accessing UK news items, that despite indulging Looney Lefties since 1970, pedophilia is alive and well in the UK.

      Do not worry T, you are not pre-disposed to gross acts of depravity. In essence when these Monsters got caught they realised that claiming they were a victim too got the Looney Lefties in their court and mitigating circumstances for a legal defence.

      We are what we choose to be given the set of circumstances presented to us. There is no predestination to sin and damnation.

    • andye says:

      10:38am | 30/07/12

      @Babylon in Canberra - If you were able to see any issue past the predefined positions of left/right you might be able to discuss it like an intelligent person. But apparently the positions we all have on such issues were defined by the 70s and nobody could possibly have any variation on such opinions and there couldnt possibly be anything to discuss because “loony left”. Brilliant.

      If you came across an issue and you didn’t know what the traditional left/right position on it was,  I am sure you would be completely lost. I have never once advocated this as a defense or said that we should be soft on them.

      “Punchers can verify for themselves by accessing UK news items, that despite indulging Looney Lefties since 1970, pedophilia is alive and well in the UK.”

      Unlike the various right wing governments that have successfully eradicated it? Congratulations on turning this into a partisan issue. You are truly a one-eyed hack.

    • Bernd Wechner says:

      03:47pm | 29/07/12

      I’m sorry, but the pathetic blurring of two issues in this article distress me and are too typical of mainstream media to belong on The Punch.

      The failure to distinguish between these two issues is driven hom by the sadly lame police comments:

      “He recently warned parents against using mobile phones to upload photos of kids to social media sites with location information. Why? Because paedophiles are window-shopping on the internet.

      By accessing freely available “geo-tagging” data (generated by your phone’s camera setup), these perpetrators locate where your children live, go to school and play.”

      The two issues being blurred here are:

      1) Child Abduction
      2) Child Pornography

      Forgive me, but I for one am curious of all the cases of child pornography successfully uncovered and children thus far affected, how many were:

      a) abducted, or
      b) abused by people they knew and trusted

      There is a world of difference and I admit openly to working on the hypothesis (easily dispelled simply by laying informed claim to the contrary, but by complaint here is that this lame article does not even notice the distinction let alone address it or attempt to dismiss my hypothesis) that the vast majority of child does not involve abductions, much rather abuses of trust and power by people with ready access to the children already.

      This hypothesis is favoured by simple reasoning, that if you were twisted enough to want to produce child pornography you’re not want to compound your risks by abducting a kid and being subject of a man hunt. Much rather you’d surreptitiously exploit children to whom you had access already.

      I’m the first to admit this is an ill informed hypothesis, but it’s an open one and I tired of folk pointing at one thing and concluding another. In this case, pointing at child pornography and raising all sorts of ridiculously unrelated warnings about predators on the prowl in our streets.

      There may be predators on the prowl on our streets and on the internet, but if you’re going to complain about them, point to them, and at least start with the premise and perhaps some evidence that they exist, and keep child pornography tucked away for another day.

      The lamentable truth that the fear mongers ignore is the majority, typically a great majority of all violent crime (and you choose just one violent crime here) is perpetrated by those we already know, family, friends and acquaintances. You can live whatever pathetic life of fear you like and it remains that case than it’s that child care you’re employing and the baby sitters that are probably your greatest risk, you can go and publish all the photos and locating info you want and not run as great a risk as trust those around you.

      And am I suggesting not to trust them? No, how abysmal a life is that?

      Yes, I concur with:

      “(1) Stop with the lame excuse about not being internet-savvy. We need to take as much control when our kids are online as when they’re playing beside a busy road.”, but I’d replace 2 with:

      (2) talk to your children about their bodies, about the birds and the bees, from an early age, practice comfort around nudity and body image and body stories in your own home, and make sure the children from infancy have no discomforts around boys and girls and private bits and so on ... you do that, and when uncle bob is fondling junior, on or off camera or worse, junior will tell you and it’s over at the first approach and uncle bob has some explaining to do.

      My hypothesis is that the vast majority of such cases are not only perpetrated by people the kids already know, but kids who have no-one else to talk to or who are frightened by the perpetrators aided by the discomfort Australian society has talking about sexuality (unless we’re bragging) in the first instance. You can erode the latter in your children by being human with them.

      Finally, if you think throwing people in jail for longer solves anything, breath deeply, tip a bucket of cold water over your head and read just a few selected pieces on what jail actually achieves aside form making the problems even bigger. The problems are real, and I share you deep deep concern and abhorrence Lainie, but you could do better than this piece I trust to share it. Better than pointing the lame finger of police at misplaced stranger danger promotion and exploring objectively for example if my hypothesis here hold or not. How these criminals relate to their victims …

      It is worst alas, and I fear all too common, when the parents themselves are the perpetrators. Denying the children any avenue of complain and abusing the most trusted bond on earth. We had such a case in Tasmania only last year, in which a moth prostituted her own daughter (while not on film, or camera, it’s equally abhorrent and similarly exists by demand … aaargh).

    • Greg says:

      06:11pm | 29/07/12

      The sky is falling! The sky is falling!

      I do not condone the despicable behaviour of the individuals involved with child porn, but do wish to critisise the journalists who choose to make a living out of sensationalising it.
      You are totally delusiomal if you think child porn is more frequent now than in the past and even more delusional if you think articles like this will help.
      The child porn industry has existed for centuries and just because a couple of cops got a hard drive, doesn’t change a thing. Leave it off the front page please.

    • Louise says:

      09:33pm | 29/07/12

      That’s at best a ridiculous comment Greg - and at worst an endorsement of the abuse of children on the basis that it’s always happened.

      I don’t care if it’s more or less frequent now, it has to be stopped. Keep it on the front page. Let every predator know that no matter what their story, we as a society will not tolerate the abuse and exploitation of children.

      I hope there will be massive resources available to detect such abuse and severe consequences for those responsible.

    • Michelle says:

      12:13pm | 30/07/12

      @ Louise - I understand your point of view, but agree with some of what Greg is trying to say.  For over 30 years I worked within Child Protection Units, Sex Offence units both in Australia and abroad, as well as within international Commands that were investigating sex tourism and traffiking. Unfortunately the media “front page hysteria” (which more often than not is about recognition for ‘breaking the story’ than the actual events), makes our job as investigators more difficult. It should not be on the front page everyday as that breeds desensatization and complacency, and even ‘compassion fatigue’. Pedophile and Kiddie porn rings get pushed further underground. Hysteria generates an immeasurable amount of time wasting. On this thread there is not enough space to break into detail and explain point by point the methodology of measuring outcomes re the influx of bad Intel in proportion to fact, measured with (amongst other things) the balance of probabilities and standard of evidence. Hysteria (media driven hysteria in particular) has harmed investigations. A journalistic investigator (not a columnist) should be required to spend at least 6 months, every day for a full shift, within a Child Protection unit - even then it would only slightly scratch ethe surface. Except to get ‘a story’, the media are not those who, day after day, during investigations, deal with 1. victims. 2. the families,  3. court system, 4. medical and psychological professionals, 5. the grubs and kiddie fiddlers themselves. The media serves its’ purpose. But creating daily hysteria serves only to hinder the teams trying to catch those who commit such horror against kids.

    • Dan The Man says:

      12:16pm | 30/07/12

      @Greg - nice work trivializing one of the most damaging criminal behaviours out there. Raising awareness of the issue is not sensationalising it. Clearly Lainie has not sensationalised this but to cynics like you, anything is probably sensational that doesn’t fit your narrow view of the world. “leave it off the front page please” are you for real? go stick your head in the sand elsewhere then you ignorant prole. How do you actually sleep at night?

    • Craig of North Brisbane says:

      02:40pm | 30/07/12

      Agreed Greg.  We should not let the moral panic whipped up by those warning against “paedos under the bed” to make us lose other principles that we hold dear, such as “innocent until proven guilty”.  By all means punish paedophiles, but do it without the hysteria please.

    • Dave says:

      05:25pm | 30/07/12

      I think that both what Greg and Michelle are saying deserve respect.  I was sexually assaulted by a teacher as a 12 year old.  Fortunately I got free and then reported it.  I am hardly sympathetic to paedos, putting it mildly although I have respect for those that have those urges and don’t act on them. 

      We need to resource investigators, prosecute offenders, treat early warning signs and have really good tracking to ensure that persons of interest don’t jump from place to place and identity to identity to re-offend.  I really don’t think that sentencing is the issue (and say this from experience, having been in the past a criminal defence lawyer for 5 years specializing in sex offences). 

      I do think that CP and the internet does change things though.  It allows nests of extremists to surround themselves with a like minded “community” that condones the behaviour and normalizes it.  I don’t have any evidence, but from professional experience would think that a lot of offenders use CP at a part of their cycle.  Whether this causes them to do things they would not in other circumstances is another matter.

      The other problem is that CP has a range, like all other pornography.  Commonly, it is pictures of young children harvested from the net.  On mum’s facebook it is a happy day at the beach.  In a CP collection, it is something else.  Someone with that kind of material is simply not in the same category as a person who abuses their own children and exchanges the images with others.  Knowing what makes these guys tick and how to successfully intervene is in my view important. 

      Hysterical bellowing or trying to tie this to one side of politics or the other is not helpful.

    • stephen says:

      11:13pm | 29/07/12

      Yes, the punishments for child crimes are too lenient, but there was an article in The Weekend Oz concerning International studies that suggest the longer children stay on the internet, the shorter their attention span on unrelated topics, and the worse these children do on tests that relate to thinking skills.
      The Professors concluded that extended computer use by children was harming their mental development.

      I still think kids use these things too much, and cutting their use after school, and indeed during school, (unfortunately, the introduction of free computers for all schoolchildren was another K. Rudd innovation) will save the minds of a previous generation.
      It will also wreck the child porn industry, an industry that is necessarily visual-based.

    • Traxster says:

      02:27pm | 31/07/12

      At the risk of being verbally pummeled from here to kingdom come by the ‘holier than thous’ I want to say that if ever I come across any one of these people,(usually but not always men) they will be lucky to be able to walk away.
      There are NO excuses !!!

 

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