A whopping 44 men have been charged and 16 children saved from potential abuse in a stunning crackdown on alleged child sex offenders.
Operation Molto, run by the Australian Federal Police, was launched last year after an international tip-off that thousands of men worldwide were sharing child abuse images over a cloud-based storage system.
The operation has led to arrests across the country, with a total of 350 charges laid against the alleged offenders.
Most arrests were from Queensland and Victoria, while the Northern Territory was the only state to not have a single person charged.
Six children were removed from potential harm in both South Australia and Victoria, while there were two in Queensland and one each in NSW and the ACT.
Assistant Commissioner Lesa Gale said traffic to dark web forums hosting child abuse material had more than doubled since last year, with websites regularly crashing under the demand.
Ms Gale said in addition to the spike in quantity of the material, its content was turning darker.
“Along with the increase in reports and the relative size of seizures, Australian law enforcement is witnessing an increase in the severity of exploitation, and a trend towards younger children, including babies,” she told.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton revealed in parliament on Thursday there had been a “dramatic increase” in the number of reports of child exploitation material made to the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE).
“From 1 July, 2019, to 30 June this year, ACCCE received 21,000 incoming reports of child exploitation material. That’s compared to 14,000 reports in the previous financial year, a dramatic increase,” Mr Dutton said.
AFP commander Jamie Strauss said in July recent investigations had shown children were being groomed and then blackmailed to produce more and more extreme material with the fear that if they didn’t do it, the material would be shared.
COVID-19 had worsened the situation, as children were more online than ever.
“We suspect that offenders will use this second wave of COVID-19 as an opportunity to find more potential child victims, as young people spend an increasing amount of time online with limited adult supervision,” Mr Strauss said.