'You have two mins to reply': How predators con children into uploading abuse material
Aussie kids are uploading so many horrific child abuse videos that police can’t keep up.
It’s called 'self-produced child exploitation material' and has become such a problem for police they’re warning parents and teens about how to avoid becoming a victim.
“There are Australian children now uploading self-produced images of themselves, potentially while their parent is sitting on the lounge with them,” said Commander Lesa Gale, the Australian Federal Police’s manager of victim-based crime.
Commander Gale showed A Current Affair around the nerve centre where her team inspect thousands of sexual abuse videos with a possible Australian connection.
So far this year, they have investigated 12,000 reports. Each report can contain thousands of videos or images.
“The number is so great that my team are really struggling to keep up with the volume and velocity of this. We can’t keep up to be frank,” she said.
There’s so much material being made that police work alone can’t keep on top of the problem.
“It’s an issue that requires education and prevention strategies so young people and parents know the risks when they are using technology and different social media platforms,” Commander Gale said.
Kids are told to be aware that when they are using any app or website with a chat function, that groomers can be lurking as well.
The AFP released details of an actual case handled by them where a teenage girl received a friend request from what appeared to be another female called Daisy who complimented her on her looks and dancing.
“A person can start off being extremely charming and saying very positive things," said Brooke Jones from ThinkUKnow, an AFP-backed partnership specializing in cyber safety.
But Daisy soon requested videos of the girl dancing without her clothes, saying she could enter it in a dance competition she was running.
“This all happened within 24 hours so something that's previously taken weeks for a child to be groomed and a relationship created, is happening a lot quicker," Ms Jones said.
The following exchange is from the actual AFP case, with Daisy's responses in bold font.
EMILY: Hi Daisy
You're so pretty.
(later that same day)
Just dancing in my room wyd
Oh, watcha wearing?
You should join my dance competition
What's your competition?
Send a nawty vid hehe
I bet you'd be great
i don't know what you mean
the supa fun kind
without clothes showing off your body
(later that same night)
are you going to enter?
You could send a video of you taking off your pjs and putting them back on
i don't know
i might get in trouble
If they send even one compromising image, the offender switches to blackmail and extortion, demanding more explicit material and threatening to post the image they have, tagging the victim’s parents and friends.
“If you do send that one image and things take a turn, tell someone you trust and contact police so we can very quickly intervene and take action. Don't let things escalate and send multiple photos," Ms Jones said.
The worst case seen in Australia so far involved 29-year-old BMX rider Fabian Merharry, who was convicted of 193 child sex offences.
He used You Tube videos of himself doing BMX tricks to target young girls.
He would film the girls while chatting on Skype and once he had any compromising material, he ordered them to commit sickening acts on themselves or even their younger siblings.
If they didn’t comply, he threatened to post the pictures he already had to social media.
The following are examples of messages sent by Merharry.
for every 5 minutes that goes by, I'll tag another friend of yours.
all your friends will see the videos and pics with your face in it.
i'll send the pics to your mother right now. You have 2 mins to reply or I'll send them.
Despite living in the Victorian town of Echuca, he used social media to trap girls in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia.
A total of 22 female victims. The oldest was 17 and the youngest 11 years old.
He eventually met up with three of the girls and raped them
A judge described him as a “monster of depravity” sentencing him to 12 years’ jail which was increased to 22 years on appeal.
"Yours was prolonged, classically predatory, depraved, cruel and remorseless behaviour which demonstrated with appalling clarity the dangers inherent in social media," Victorian Country Court Judge Liz Gaynor said.
Research done by the Office of the eSafety Commissioner reveal one in four Australian teens are contacted online by a stranger.
“What we need to remember when we hand over a device, if it's internet-enabled, we can literally allow strangers into our living rooms," Australian eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant said.
“Parents are the front line of defence of keeping their kid safe online particularly in the home. We need to treat our child’s online lives the way we do their everyday lives and be engaged in terms of what they are doing online."