AN INVESTIGATION into the online dealings of a Wyong man who was charged with 89 counts of child abuse, has uncovered a network of perpetrators and resulted in almost 600 charges across the state.
In February the Australian Federal Police-led Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation received a report from the US about an online user allegedly uploading child abuse material.
The report led to an investigation by the AFP's Eastern Command Child Protection Operations in Sydney, and a 30-year-old Wyong man was identified. He was arrested in February 2020 and has since been charged with 89 counts of child abuse charges, including alleged contact offending of two children.
Investigators delved further into the man's activities and reviewed electronic evidence seized during the initial warrants. As a result, the AFP discovered social media forums where some members were allegedly producing child abuse material, while others were accessing and circulating the material.
Evidence gathering at each arrest led to the unravelling of this alleged online network and each warrant led to the discovery of more alleged offenders and more children.
The investigation sparked Operation Arkstone, and in June 2020 it resulted in the arrest of nine men and 14 child victims identified.
AFP Acting Commander child protection operations Christopher Woods said the scale of offending uncovered in the Operation Arkstone network was unprecedented in an AFP-led operation.
"The dedicated investigators and forensic specialists have spent most of 2020 working tirelessly after each arrest to piece together information that identified more victims and the people allegedly abusing and exploiting them," he said.
"Victims were often identified through seemingly minor details in photos and videos - analysis that is time-consuming and painstaking, but vital to supporting the rescue of these children and the identification and prosecution of their abusers.
"These men allegedly produced child abuse material for the depraved pleasure of their peers with absolutely no thought to the lasting effects their actions would have on these children.
"What this highlights is that offenders are across age groups, occupations and are in positions of trust. Parents need to be vigilant about who has access to their children."
Since the initial arrests, the investigation has uncovered further connections to alleged child sex offenders and more child victims.
The alleged offenders ranged in age from 20 to 48 years, with an average age of 28 years. The positions of the alleged offenders varied from a child care worker, volunteer soccer coach, disability support worker, through to an electrician, supermarket employee and chef.
The child victims ranged in age from 16 months to 15 years, with an average age of eight years.
Investigators have laid 577 charges against eight men in NSW and identified 39 child victims.
Police also laid 30 charges against three men in Queensland with one child victim identified, and 221 charges laid against three men with six child victims identified in Western Australia.
Bestiality charges were also laid in NSW in relation to four animals.
Operation Arkstone investigators identified links through the online forums to alleged child sex offenders residing in Europe, Asia, United States and Canada, and New Zealand, with 146 international referrals made as a result of this investigation.
United States Homeland Securityattaché to Australia, Adam Parks said this predatory network spread their heinous activity around the globe believing themselves to be anonymous, but they were mistaken.
"HSI is proud to work alongside our Australian partners and a global network of law enforcement professionals who work tirelessly to bring these offenders to justice, no matter where they may hide."
The AFP will continue to work closely with its law enforcement partners to dismantle this network of child sex offenders and ensure no further children are subjected to the violence inflicted by these alleged offenders.
Members of the public who have any information about this network or people involved in child abuse and exploitation are urged to call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.
Reports can also be made online by alerting the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation via the Report Abuse button.
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