“MIND THE GAPS”: There’s quite a bit we don’t know about CSE in Australia
Paul McCarney | ICMEC Australia CEO
Welcome to the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (‘ICMEC’) Australia!
The Centre has been working to make the world a safer place for children for over 20 years. Headquartered near Washington in the USA, ICMEC has people in South America, Asia and now Australia. Thanks to the efforts of Bindu Sharma in building a coalition of 30 financial institutions, law enforcement agencies and government departments in the region, the industry is seeing value in collaborating to reduce the use of the Australian financial system by those who would pay for for Child Sexual Exploitation (‘CSE’) material.
The last 3 years has seen Bindu and me building our plans to operationalise in Australia to progress our Cause, raising money and officially establishing ICMEC in Australia as a registered not-for-profit.
ICMEC Australia brings together a coalition of government, NGO and commercial entities to develop relationships and discuss collaborative action to develop innovative data products and applications to reduce the volume of child exploitation crimes within and from Australia.
In November 2021 we were granted $25 Million from Westpac Group’s Safer Children, Safer Communities program. We are proud and grateful to call Westpac a true partner in their commitment to our Cause. Since then we have been building a team of passionate, dedicated and highly skilled professionals to execute our strategy. We are also increasing the awareness of the work we are carrying out in Australia by launching our website: www.icmec.org.au.
While there are many unknowns about CSE in Australia (as the title of this post suggests – and which I’ll get to shortly), it was by looking at what we do know and the challenges we face as a result that we were able to develop our point of view:
– In 2020, the Australia Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (“ACCCE”) statistics reported over 21,000 incidents of online child sexual exploitation. In the same period, the Australian Federal Police charged a total of 191 people with 1847 alleged child abuse-related offences.
– In 2021, reports of Online Child Sexual Exploitation material were reported to have increased by 50% with a record 14,491 investigations by eSafety into online CSE material.
– With dramatic growth in internet-connected devices, child sexual abuse materials (CSAM) and live streaming of child sexual exploitation (CSE) are easily and instantly accessible to millions of predators around the world.
– The proliferation of distribution and viewing channels gives offenders easy access to children, whilst the anonymity of the internet allows offenders to groom children from anywhere in the world.
This is occurring at the same time the complexity and variety of the digital payment options and marketing ecosystems are making current activities to identify and stop these offenders significantly more challenging.
– The problem is a ‘wicked’ one, in the sense that it is multifaceted, not solved by one solution, there are many ‘unknown unknowns’ processes and data needs, and hence it requires a collaborative response.
– ICMEC has already established a coalition of willing industry partners and is currently facilitating some promising, industry-led collaborative data projects.
– However, originating safe data collaboration practices within an industry is challenging, resulting in internal and public data assets often sitting in unused “data silos”.
– CSE offenders seem to be exploiting these data gaps that are formed by such a challenging technical and legal environment.
– As a result, access to the most appropriate data at the right time is very difficult for any individual financial institution, government agency or law enforcement agency.
– Which is why our role is one of facilitating industry trust:
* Trust that will enable organisations to appropriately share information and data for the benefit of the industry;
* Trust that will help us identify and deliver the most appropriate data to the right entity at the right time;
* While can’t have all the answers, trust in us that we can appropriately fund those that do.
This point of view helped us frame our strategy for achieving our goal centred around 3 key programs of work
The tighter the industry collaborates the fewer gaps offenders have to operate between – and therefore facilitating opportunities for financial institutions, law enforcement agencies, regulators and government departments to collaborate is key. This can take the form of sharing information, sharing data in a manner that protects privacy and developing proprietary data insights, technology platforms and analytic services.
In addition, we know we don’t have all the answers. To take advantage of all the innovation and dedication occurring within the industry, we have established a Child Protection Fund to provide impact grants to organisations or individuals looking to progress our Cause.
There are still many holes in our knowledge in the systems, processes and data, and no one single entity has a system wide view in the variety of responses to CSE. Unfortunately, CSE offenders are exploiting this data asymmetry to their advantage.
That leads us to focusing our attention on all the things we don’t know.
It is in order to start filling those gaps that we are commissioning a User Centred Design study to document industry dynamics, map the ecosystem of organisations involved in the fight against child exploitation and outline the high-level data flows. Critically, the research will provide insights into the ‘gaps’ in the ecosystem with a view to developing a roadmap of how we could turn them into opportunities. We will then as an industry look to ‘plug’ and prioritise those people/data/process opportunities based partly on their impact and ultimately save children that are victims of CSE.
As the harrowing, local documentary The Children in the Pictures demonstrates, this is a war, and we have just begun mustering our troops and arming ourselves with all the tools and knowledge that we can. Check out our latest job offers if you’d like to join our ranks.