Fifteen men have been arrested and charged following a joint Northern Territory, Queensland and Australian Federal Police operation targeting online child predators.
During a three-month operation launched in January, police executed search warrants in Darwin, Mataranka, Tennant Creek, Alice Springs and the MacDonnell and Victoria Daly regions in the Northern Territory.
Properties were also searched in Mossman Gorge, Mount Garnet, Mount Isa and the Cairns suburb of Redlynch in Queensland.
NT Police acting commander Lauren Hill said the operation targeted “online predators attempting to procure children through internet chat lines”.
“During the operation, investigators executed 19 search warrants in seven locations across the Northern Territory and four locations in Queensland,” she said.
“It is the first time that we have done such a large-scale operation over a dedicated period of time working closely with many of our other police jurisdictions.”
Police said they identified four alleged victims in the NT between the ages of five and eight.
The alleged offenders were from QLD, WA and the NT and are aged between 21 and 52.
A man from WA was also extradited to Darwin, where he was expected to face court on Tuesday.
The alleged offenders are facing a total of 45 charges including using the internet to procure a child and indecent dealing with a child under 10.
Acting commander Hill said one of the police investigators purported to be a 12-year-old girl who used an online forum to communicate with a man who allegedly “arranged to meet the child with the intention of engaging in sexual intercourse”.
He has since been charged and is now before the courts.
Australian Federal Police superintendent Matthew Ballard said online crime remained a priority for the agency.
“Whether the clear net or the dark web, the AFP and its partners … have covert online operatives,” he said.
“We are watching you.”
Acting commander Hill has also encouraged parents to be aware of their child’s online activity.
“Any of the variety of online forums that are available that children do access, there are predators on the other side,” she said.