The victims, aged between two months and eight years old, were taken into care by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) following a two-year international and multi-agency investigation that ended in the arrest of 16 people.
Following a tipoff from US detectives in 2018, Australian authorities launched a probe into an online marketplace whose users allegedly bought encrypted image and video files depicting the sexual abuse of children.
Code-named Operation Walwa, the investigation was a collaborative effort involving the sharing of information between US Homeland Security, Interpol, Europol, US cyber and sex crime teams, and several Australian state and territory commands.
As a result, investigators executed 18 search warrants across NSW, South Australia, Queensland, Victoria, and Western Australia.
Three of the rescued children were taken to safety from in an address in New South Wales, while the fourth was collected from an address in Victoria. According to ABC news, at least three of the children were related to those now charged with carrying out their abuse and profiting from it.
The 16 individuals arrested in connection with the child abuse ring have been charged with a total of 738 child exploitation offenses.
“These crimes see people using significant established networks to share child abuse material and take advantage of vulnerable children,” Victoria police detective Karen Bennett said.
“They have devastating impacts for victims and the wider community.”
Adam Parks from US Homeland Security said that criminals who believe that they are immune from arrest during the global health crisis are incorrect.
“Let this be a warning that law enforcement is undeterred by COVID-19 and remains on-duty to keep our children safe in Australia, the US, and online,” said Parks.
The head of strategic policing at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), Dr. John Coyne, said criminals who access child pornography from home believing themselves to be safe from capture will be caught.
“Unfortunately, people are able to create global networks using off-the-shelf encryption and they can interact from their living rooms,” said Coyne. “If you think you can sit at home and watch and not get caught, police will dismantle these groups and pursue users.”
Source: Infosecurity Magazine