LONDON – An organized crime group that facilitated the live streaming of on-demand child sexual abuse in the Philippines has been dismantled after a joint investigation by the U.K.'s National Crime Agency (NCA), the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Operation Endeavour, which began in 2012, has resulted in (to date):
- 29 international arrests, of which 11 were part of the facilitation group in the Philippines;
- 15 children in the Philippines aged between 6-15 identified and safeguarded from sexual abuse; and
- Over £37,500 ($60,000) identified as having been paid for the live abuse of children by the customer network.
The crime group arranged for children to be sexually abused live on webcam in exchange for payment. Some of the facilitators were members of the children's own families.
The investigation began after U.K. police in Northamptonshire carried out a routine visit at the home of registered sex offender Timothy Ford and found a number of indecent videos on computers in the property. The force then contacted NCA and, after working together, a number of 'customers' and associates were identified and a global law enforcement investigation commenced.
In 2012, on-going analysis of the digital media associated with the investigation led to the identification of additional suspects and numerous children in the Philippines who were believed to have been sexually exploited. In August of that year, NCA's Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Command contacted ICE's Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) office in Manila, the Australia Federal Police and the International Justice Mission (a non-governmental organisation) to request support for the investigation. Together, the agencies presented the case to the Philippine National Police (PNP) for possible enforcement action and between August and October 2012 all were involved in efforts to identify the offenders and victims in the Philippines.
In October 2012, three search warrants were executed and with the assistance of CEOP, ICE and the AFP, the Philippine National Police arrested 11 Filipino nationals and rescued 15 victims. All of the victims rescued were placed in the custody of the Philippine Department of Social Welfare and Development.
The use of webcams to stream live abuse, particularly from the developing world, is a significant and emerging threat according to the NCA's CEOP command. Extreme poverty, the increasing availability of high speed Internet and the existence of a vast and comparatively wealthy overseas customer base has led to organized crime groups exploiting children for financial gain.
Andy Baker, deputy director of the NCA's CEOP command said, "This investigation has identified some extremely dangerous child sexual offenders who believed paying for children to be abused to order was something they could get away with. Being thousands of miles away makes no difference to their guilt. In my mind they are just as responsible for the abuse of these children as the contact abusers overseas."
"Protecting the victims of abuse is our priority and that means attacking every link in the chain, from dismantling the organized groups who are motivated by profit through to targeting their customers," said Baker. "This kind of end-to-end operation is only possible when law enforcement agencies work together. The NCA has valuable international partners, including the Philippine National Police and the International Justice Mission, to not only share information and intelligence, but ensure abused and exploited children are identified and safeguarded from harm."
The AFP's Assistant Commissioner Tim Morris said he is committed to taking all necessary action to protect children in Australia and internationally from sexual exploitation: "Every day, AFP officers work with state and international counterparts to combat child sexual exploitation and to bring offenders to justice. The use of online media to drive these types of crimes is a sinister development. To target the most vulnerable members of the community in this way cannot be tolerated in any society. It's abhorrent that these crimes occur and it is our duty as police and the wider community to ensure that every possible measure is taken to identify and assist the victims and to identify and take action against the perpetrators."
HSI Executive Associate Director James Dinkins said, "Thanks to this joint operation, children have been rescued from a living nightmare. The group responsible for these heinous crimes mistakenly believed that they could use technology to avoid detection, but they were wrong. We will continue to work tirelessly with our international law enforcement partners across jurisdictions and national boundaries to protect children anywhere in the world and bring criminals to justice regardless of where they live."
NCA, AFP and ICE are all members of the Virtual Global Taskforce, an international alliance of law enforcement agencies and private sector partners working together to combat online child sexual exploitation.
HSI encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free Tip at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or by completing its online tip form. Both are staffed around the clock by investigators. Suspected child sexual exploitation or missing children may be reported to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, an Operation Predator partner, via its toll-free 24-hour hotline, 1-800-THE-LOST.