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SouthernCross

The hidden world of online child abuse

Judy Adamson The Children in the Pictures Rated M – Frequent references to child abuse; coarse language Streaming via SBS On Demand.

T

here are some things you wish you didn’t have to

know about. It’d be much nicer to go through life without any inkling of the extent of human depravity. Sadly, in order to protect ourselves and others, it’s sometimes necessary to hear, see and talk about more than is comfortable. Forewarned is forearmed – and some elements of this documentary are definitely hard to stomach. The Children in the Pictures shows the work of Task Force Argos, a Queensland-based police investigative team linked with similar units across the globe that rescue children from online sexual abuse. Because if there’s one thing the internet has taught us, it’s that a national boundary poses no barrier to the sharing of photos and files. And as the head of the Argos team, Detective Inspector Joe Rouse says, “We’ll help, wherever the kids are”. Rouse is kind-faced, gently spoken, and – to look at – about as far removed from the hard-nosed crime-fighting cliché as you could imagine. But he has been battling child sexual exploitation since the 1990s with a deep, ongoing commitment to rescuing kids from abuse, and uncovering and dismantling the networks that encourage and propagate it.

One of the first things he notes in the documentary is that most people simply don’t understand the magnitude of the problem. They agree that it’s “terrible” but go no further. I admit to being one of these people as, in the past, simply thinking about such issues made me queasy. However, this is the work freely undertaken by the members of Task Force Argos (the group’s motto is “Leave no stone unturned”), because without their efforts the children in sexual bondage to relatives, friends or strangers can’t be found, let alone saved. Some Argos members work in victim identification and are required to watch countless hours of appalling offences against children. And babies. Others take on the even harder role, if that were possible, of assuming the online identity of an offender who has been caught so the team can infiltrate the network, identify perpetrators and rescue their victims. Or as one team member puts it, “becoming the enemy”. They do this on the aptly named dark web, where abuse sites are hidden from general view by a special browser and encrypted software. This latter work is controversial, as it involves the distribution continued on page 29