Inside the NSW Police child abuse squad

The NSW child abuse squad has arrested 10 alleged paedophiles every week this year and is convicting more and more offenders who infiltrate families, schools and social media to prey on children.

But as victims and detectives pay the psychological toll, authorities warn online child abuse content is proliferating in Australia, where tech giants are yet to meet “minimum expectations” in key areas.

Detective Superintendent Linda Howlett, in her 41 years with a badge, has questioned countless paedophiles.

“It’s in the psyche of some people,” Howlett said. “They’re happy to talk to you about it, they’re trying to justify why they’ve done it. And they believe it.”

Howlett finds paedophiles are often social chameleons: seemingly unremarkable, helpful and polite as they look for opportunities to get near children.

“Often they’re the people parents couldn’t talk highly enough about,” Howlett said.

“They volunteer for school groups, camps, sporting activities, they look around for single parent families to help them go shopping or gardening.

“They not only groom children, they groom families. You’re not going to leave your children with someone you don’t trust.”

Child abuse cases are notoriously difficult to prosecute, Howlett said, because the crimes are so shocking while the accused are often dearly trusted relatives or friends.

“I’ve spoken to jurors, after I’ve lost trials, and a lot of people just can’t believe someone would physically sexually assault a child,” Howlett said. “They think it’s impossible.”

Each year the child abuse squad takes on about 5500 to 6500 new cases. It’s the single largest squad in NSW Police’s State Crime Command.

There were 8000 reports of child sexual abuse material made to the eSafety Commissioner in the first three months of 2023 alone. That is triple the same period in 2022.

A recent US study found Instagram’s algorithms were advertising “self-generated” child abuse material – illegal images made by minors – to networks of adult buyers.

Source: 12ft | Inside the NSW Police child abuse squad

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