Three alleged victims of child sex abuse have been rescued and 45 people have been charged following a massive police operation in Perth.
In the lead-up to National Child Protection Week, Western Australia Police joined forces with the Australian Federal Police and Australian Border Force for an operation targeting alleged offenders involved in the manufacture, distribution and possession of child exploitation material.
About 61 search warrants were executed across WA, including 16 related to alleged commonwealth offences.
Police said 45 people were charged with 149 offences, while 35,222 images and videos of child exploitation material were allegedly seized.
“Importantly, three victims were identified and rescued from ongoing child sexual abuse,” police said in a statement on Monday.
Detective Superintendent Gordon Fairman said child exploitation material was not pornography.
“It is direct evidence of children being abused,” he said.
“Identifying, locating and rescuing these children is the highest priority for WA Police, and we work closely with national and international partners to do this.
“People who manufacture, distribute or possess child exploitation material may believe they are anonymous, hiding behind a computer. Let me tell you that they are not.
“As this operation shows, we can identify them, we can locate them and we can prosecute them.”
Child abuse squad tactical intelligence analyst Linda Bahn works with investigators to identify offenders and children who are at risk of abuse.
“We do that by using our capabilities and systems, and we analyse the data,” she said.
“Often when we locate these offenders, we then establish their associations with other offenders, and in that way, we sometimes establish sex offenders networks.”
Ms Bahn said working with children was her passion.
“I just recognise their vulnerability … we have to speak for them and we have to work for them because they can’t often speak for themselves,” she said.
“Despite all the challenges and disturbing elements that we are faced with, it is rewarding to save a child and to know that the abuse has stopped.
“We are constantly working behind the scenes – this is ongoing.
“There is a lot that we deal with and it’s just to make the public be aware how we can protect children, how they can protect children, encourage people to speak up if they feel that something is amiss or something is wrong or they have been victims.”
Last year, the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation received more than 33,000 reports of child exploitation – double the number of reports from 2019.
“These figures show the scale of the problem and how we need everyone in the community – parents, teachers, carers – to be alert,” AFP Detective Superintendent Graeme Marshall said.
“Let this serve as a warning to anyone who produces or shares child abuse material – you will be caught.
“The AFP, together with our state, commonwealth and international partners, remain committed to identifying, arresting and prosecuting those who seek to exploit and harm our community’s most vulnerable – our children.”
Research conducted by the ACCCE in 2020 revealed only about half of parents talked to their children about online safety.