Pay Per View Torture: Why Are Australian Telcos and ISPs Enabling a Child Sexual Abuse Pandemic?

ABC Religion and Ethics 6 Jul 2017
Melinda Tankard Reist is a writer, speaker and co-founder of Collective Shout. She co-edited Big Porn Inc: Exposing the Harms of the Global Porn Industry.
"There are examples where people have been wanting to see the violent rape of children five, six, seven years old; and other, very violent acts carried out against very young children." - Chief Judge John Pascoer1718799_26794634.jpg

A man sits at his computer and procures a child - usually a child living in poverty, and in a very poor part of the world - to be sexually exploited, live, for his pleasure. This remote sexual torturer specifies the transgressions he wishes to be inflicted on his helpless victim.

To all the piteous horrors inflicted on the youngest members of the human family around the world, a new atrocity has been added: "Live Distant Child Abuse." There is a growing pandemic of this practice of paid-per-view torture.

This practice involves the real-time rape and torture of babies, infants and pre-pubescent children. According to a report from the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, "59.72% of the abuse acts against babies and toddlers involved explicit sexual activity/assaults and extreme sexual assaults." These are acts that are at the highest levels of the Copine scale - a rating system used to categorise the severity of images of child sex abuse.

The more violent the act, the more the user pays. The International Justice Mission (IJM) estimates that men pay between US$20 and $150 for a "sex show" broadcast online. "The cost of such a show will increase with the level of abusiveness requested," the IJM wrote in a submission to the Federal Inquiry into Human Trafficking, arguing that these practices need to be considered in our provisions against sexual servitude and slavery.

More than half the victims of cybersex abuse trafficking rescued by IJM are aged 12 years old or younger. A three-month-old was removed from the scene of violation in a Philippine den last year. In the Philippines alone, the child abuse market is a one billion-dollar a year industry.

Child sexual abuse online is described as a "global pandemic" in Behind the Screen: Online Child Exploitation in Australia, a new report on Australia's response to online child exploitation by Anti-Slavery Australia at the Faculty of Law, University of Technology Sydney. Revealing the alarming scope of online child exploitation, the report, along with IJM's testimony to a current Federal inquiry into human trafficking, and shocking examples of this child torture highlighted in the Senate last month, will hopefully give this issue the attention it warrants.

It is estimated by the FBI that there are 750,000 child predators online. Increasing numbers of them are using - and, in turn, driving - a growing industry of transnational cyber trafficking of children for sexual exploitation, which is streamed live into the homes of users. There are currently more than 150 million images and videosdocumenting child exploitation available online.

INHOPE, a network of 46 hotlines in 40 countries to assist in the fight against child sexual abuse, has confirmed83,644 unique URLs as containing materials from 45 countries. INTERPOL's International Child Sexual Exploitation image database records an average of seven unique child sexual exploitation victims made per day. That is more than 10,000 victims as of January this year.

Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) found that reports of child sexual abuse imagery rose by 417% between 2013 and 2015. In 2015, 68,092 reports were confirmed as illegal images or video, an increase of 417%, since 2013. It then looked at trends emerging from the 2015 data, finding that:

  • 69% of victims were assessed as aged 10 or under;
  • 1,788 of the victims were assessed as aged 2 or under;
  • 34% of images were category A, involving the rape or sexual torture of children.

Those working in the field say infants are increasingly attractive to abusers, because they can't speak or defend themselves.

Meet Australia's Sadistic Abusers

Australian offenders have a significant role in this sadistic trade. As at 1 June 2016, 194 Australian children have been identified as victims of online exploitation material. 102 Australian perpetrators have been identified, but this is only a tiny proportion of the 11,000 referrals made to Australian Federal Police in 2015.

Behind the Screens researchers state that, "More Australian based offenders are regularly accessing, downloading from, or even administering vast international networks that encourage the distribution of materials." Australian-based offenders were "procurers, groomers and administrators of vast online child exploitation networks" and were driving abuse locally and in countries like the Philippines and parts of Eastern Europe.

Chief Judge John Pascoe has noted this disturbing trend in the Federal Circuit Court. He told the ABC's 7:30, "There are examples where people have been wanting to see the violent rape of children five, six, seven years old; and other, very violent acts carried out against very young children."

So, who are the Australian men involved in ''Live Distant Child Abuse"? Here are five examples. These weren't just individuals operating alone - they were operating highly organized businesses, business gangs essentially, with many ties to each other operating in a global system of pornography. This is a collective practice, not the idiosyncratic crimes of a few perverted individuals. Men like these are not just watching pre-made images on a screen - which is, of course, bad enough - but are actually manufacturing the abuse. It is not possible to dissociate their watching from afar from the manufacture of live porn as cruelty and abuse.

Infamous online and contact offender, Peter Scully, was arrested in the Philippines for crimes including child trafficking, child sexual abuse, torture and murder. Scully filmed his crimes for internet clients for $10,000. Police and lawyers describe his crimes as "the most shocking cases of child murder, torture and abuse they have ever seen in the Philippines." Senior police officers and prosecutors wept when they viewed one video called "Daisy's Destruction". Daisy was 18 months old.

In 2016, young Melbourne man Matthew Graham (known as "Lux") was sentenced to 15 years jail. for distributing hundreds of thousands of items of child exploitation material. Beginning as a schoolboy operating out of his parent's basement, he became one of the biggest child pornography and "hurtcore" distributors in the world, with his websites attracting 3 million hits in three years. His crimes included videoing the torture and rape of a young child in the Philippines, and encouraging the rape and murder of a child in Russia.

Bryan Beattie paid as little as $12 to watch through his Skype account 17 children aged between 8 and 15 being sexually assaulted in the Philippines between 2012 and 2014. Beattie procured a local abuser and instructed him on the kinds of abuses he wanted to see. At sentencing, Beattie said he thought the children being raped appeared "happy." Beattie is the first NSW man to be charged with a "pay per view" offence. He was sentenced in March 2017 to a maximum of 10 years imprisonment but is eligible for parole in February 2021.

Queenslander Stephen James Sheriff paid a Filipino mother of two girls, including a 10-year-old, for live sex acts. Despite being convicted of soliciting and accessing child exploitative material, he was released with a $500 fine. While his original sentence was 3 years, the lifetime of suffering he has brought upon these children was apparently worth almost nothing.

Kyle Dawson paid about $60 to watch by Skype the abuse of children in the Philippines. His victims were girls aged about 6, 10 and 12, and a boy of about 8 was also abused in a Manila slum. Captured in a sting operation, Dawson was sentenced in the Brisbane District Court on 26 July last year to 5 years in prison with a two-year non-parole period.

In 2015, Shannon McCoole was sentenced to 35 years imprisonment for charges relating to his role as head administrator of a global online network with 45,000 members.

Lower Sentences for Pay-Per-View Torture

On average, fewer than half of all convicted offenders are given prison terms, according to Anti-Slavery Australia in Behind the Screen. This pay-per-view torture, commissioned and directed by Australians, has received lower sentences than direct hands-on offending. According to Anti-Slavery Australia:

"Our findings, based on a review of recent case law, indicate that on average, defendants charged and convicted under Commonwealth provisions receive at most 2 to 3 years imprisonment, and where multiple charges are involved, these sentences are served concurrently ... Even in cases where offenders have vast collections of child exploitation material, and have used internet services to groom and procure more than one child for the purposes of contact offending, the case law indicates that such aggravating elements increase the overall sentence only marginally."

While the recent passage of a law to cancel passports of child sex offenders overseas is to be welcomed - more than 770 Australian registered child sex offenders travelled overseas in 2016 - the act does not deal with the fact that a growing proportion of offending happens without the offender stepping outside the door of his home.

In the Senate on 20 June, NXT Senator Skye Kakoschke-Moore said the Criminal Code was designed to address perpetrators travelling to abuse a victim, and failed to target those staying home while commissioning, directing and paying for the abuse in real time. Kakoschke-Moore proposes amending laws to crack down on Australian offenders who access the live online abuse of children overseas. She told the Senate, "Committing the offence virtually should make them no less culpable."

Speaking later to the ABC's PM program, Senator Kakoschke-Moore said: "We have jurisdiction over offenders here. Where those offenders are using the internet to commission the real time abuse of children to direct that abuse against the child over the internet they must be found guilty of an offence."

Enabling Abuse: It's Time to Hold ISPs to Account

There is also a push to hold ISPs to account. Internet Service Providers and Telcos - Telstra, Optus, iiNet and TPG - which provide the infrastructure for live-streaming abuse of children to be possible, need to cooperate with law enforcement authorities. Telcos are profiting from the global crime of child sexual abuse of the kind that happened to the children I've described.

Last week, the ABC's 7:30 revealed that, in the first 5 months of this year, there were 79 cases where telecommunications companies did not provide the online information such as subscriber records, IP addresses or mobile data required to make an arrest. This equated to a fifth of cases being pursued. That's 79 cases that cannot be investigated and prosecuted because ISPs consider the "privacy" of their (paying) customers to take precedence over the well-being of tortured children.

It is no wonder police tasked with building a case against suspected perpetrators - and who have to view material on a daily basis that would destroy most of us - are frustrated. One investigating officer interviewed for Anti-Slavery's report lamented the lack of compliance by Telcos, which appear reluctant to assist with investigations of online child exploitation. The officer gave as an example investigating the abuse of a four-month-old baby and being told "can't help" 4 times. After he called the E Safety Commissioner, the information was provided within 40 minutes.

Asked by reporter Alex McDonald what happens when there is insufficient information, AFP Commander Lesa Gale responded: "It stops. It ceases. It means we can't do anything more. It means, if there is a child that's been exploited, that nothing further can be done." A child won't be rescued and an abuser can keep abusing.

Anti-Slavery Australia says there is a lack of clarity relating to the legal obligations of internet service providers - which form "part of a chain which contributes to the distribution of child pornography on the internet" - to report child exploitation material hosted on their networks. Provisions in the Criminal Code and Telecommunications Act are "vague and ineffective."

Senator Skye Kakoschke-Moore has flagged amendments to require ISPs to comply. She told the Senate that cyber sexual abusers were "utilizing the infrastructure of telcos to commit their crimes." Telcos have a "social duty" to "ensure they do everything in their power to assist the AFP" in tracking people using their service to offend. Senator Kakoschke-Moore's amendments will require ISPs and content hosts to provide specific information to the AFP such as IP addresses or personal details of the subscriber. The amendments would also increase penalties for non-compliance with an AFP request.

Australian ISPs and telcos are commercially mediating the abuse of children. The Australian government needs to take action urgently to make them act ethically. A peak body is needed to give the issue the serious, multilevel cooperation it needs. As Judge Pascoe told 7:30, "I think the public does have a right to expect that they will be part of the social contract; that they will be aware of Australia's international obligations; and that they will do their part to protect children."

Without urgent government intervention to address these human rights atrocities against children, the social contract is breached. We all become complicit in these crimes.

Melinda Tankard Reist is a writer, speaker and co-founder of Collective Shout. She blogs at www.melindatankardreist.com.


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