Last month, The Children in the Pictures documentary aired on SBS, shining light on the dark underworld of online child abuse. The documentary reveals the shocking extent of child abuser criminal networks, and the disturbing acts their members commit towards children, providing a harrowing illustration of the reality of online sexual abuse for countless children and babies worldwide. It is a stark warning of the threats posed by the modern world to children, intensified in recent years by the explosion of cheap and widespread internet access.
The documentary tracks the operations of a dedicated taskforce in Queensland whose tireless efforts have brought down online paedophile rings around the world, leading to the rescue of hundreds of children and the arrests of thousands of abusers.
Watching The Children in the Pictures, I took some comfort knowing the great lengths that law enforcement goes to protect children from online abuse. Yet the documentary reveals the enormity of the challenge ahead of us in protecting children from abusers. Mobile technology and social media platforms are increasingly integral to the lives of children and young people, giving abusers unprecedented access to those too young to understand the risks. Social media in particular sparks cause for concern. Facebook recently encrypted its messenger service, allowing online criminals to go undetected while masking the extent to which social networking exacerbates the problem of online abuse. A reported 12 million children went online for the first time in 2020, a trend that is set to rise, and that skyrocketed during the pandemic. The combination of limited online regulation, encryption and a growing reliance on the internet undoubtedly poses new challenges for the child and family welfare sector, and society at large, as we seek to keep children safe in this rapidly changing virtual landscape.
I applaud the taskforces battling to end online child abuse, and those who work to raise awareness of it. At the Centre, we will continue to work with our partners in our fight to protect children. I hope that one day we won’t have to.