Fifteen people from across the Northern Territory and Queensland have been arrested and charged for preying on children online over the last three months, as part of a joint operation between the AFP and NT Police.
Investigators executed 19 search warrants as part of ‘Operation May’ – targeting online predators attempting to “procure children through internet chat lines” – across the NT and Queensland between January and March.
NT authorities searched different locations in the NT including Darwin, Mataranka, Tennant Creek, Alice Springs, MacDonnell Region and the Victorian Daly Region. Further search warrants were executed across a number of locations in Queensland, as well.
NT Police said a 52-year-old male Territorian has also been extradited from WA, in relation to child abuse offenses. However, the police did not disclose details of his case or his name.
As part of the Joint Anti-Child Exploitation Team (JACET) and the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE) operation, that involves the Northern Territory, Queensland and Australian Federal Police, investigators went undercover on an online forum as a 12-year-old girl and engaged with a 28-year-old male.
They did not mention what online platform was used.
The man had arranged to meet what he thought was the girl with the intention of engaging in sexual intercourse, detectives said.
Investigators said they tracked the man whilst using an undercover operative as a decoy.
The man was intercepted upon arrival at the meeting place and was subsequently arrested, charged, and taken into custody.
The location of the incident was not disclosed.
“The offences allegedly committed and the potential for further offending by these individuals is horrific,” NT Police Detective Sergeant Paul Lawson said.
“Stopping the abhorrent intentions of people like them, drives officers within the joint operation every day to rid our society of this type of offending.”
AFP Detective Superintendent Paula Hudson ACCCE and Child Protection Operations said they will maintain the coordination amongst operatives to protect children and ensure those suspected of procuring and producing child abuse material were detected and prosecuted.
“This is also a warning to any adult who wants to prey on children online – you may not be talking to a vulnerable child; you could be talking to a police officer,” Ms Hudson said.
The fifteen people arrested, whose ages range from 21 to 52 with genders withheld, face multiple charges including using the internet to procure a child, transmitting indecent communication to a minor, using a carriage service for child abuse material and procuring a child, failing to comply with reporting obligations, and indecent dealing with a child under 10.
Anyone with information about people involved in child abuse and exploitation are urged to call Crime stoppers on 1800 333 000.