Combatting online child exploitation this World Childrens Day

Every 20 November, the world commemorates World Children’s Day, an occasion to promote and celebrate children’s rights and welfare. Yet the increasing threat and risk of online sexual exploitation means many children remain vulnerable to abuse.

In New Zealand, a partnership between the New Zealand Customs Service, New Zealand Police and Te Tari Taiwhenua Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) works to identify child victims and target offenders involved in the online sexual abuse of children, in New Zealand and across the world.

All three agencies have a history of strong collaboration and are active members of Task Force Ruru, a dedicated victim identification team. In 2023, the three agencies have received over 15,000 reports produced by overseas electronic service providers alleging online offending by New Zealanders.

Advance of technology has led to more crimes being committed both in the real world and online, with offenders hiding their identities behind encryption and anonymising tools. This offending is against real children, who suffer serious sexual abuse, leaving a lifelong legacy of harm for those victims.

Customs’ Acting Investigations Manager, Simon Peterson, says whether it’s a person carrying child sexual abuse images and videos on their devices through airports or uploading, downloading or sharing imagery across our cyber border, Customs is committed to catching offenders and safeguarding child victims.

“Today is a reminder of the importance of the work our agencies do to shine a spotlight on the dark corners of the internet where this abuse is taking place, using our collective powers to investigate, arrest and prosecute offenders taking part in online child exploitation.”

“This is not a victimless crime – they aren’t just images or videos of children – these are preservations of crime scenes of often horrific sexual abuse. These children are victimised again each time these videos are seen. Sharing the imagery perpetuates the crime by increasing demand and further abuse.”

“All children and young people should be safe, and free from sexual exploitation, says Detective Inspector Stuart Mills, Manager Intercept and Technology Operations.

“New Zealand Police works closely with our New Zealand agency partners and international law enforcement agencies providers to better protect children, not only in New Zealand but internationally.

“Those who prey on children for their own sexual gratification or financial gain, will be investigated and held accountable for their offending.

“We remain committed to strengthening relationships with industry to ensure those committing these insidious crimes are held to account.”

Tim Houston, Manager of DIA’s Digital Child Exploitation Team says, “The Internet has led to an increase in sharing child sexual abuse material and facilitates offenders to connect with one another. Today is a reminder of the importance of protecting and safeguarding the most vulnerable in our society from harm.”

“I want to take this opportunity to remind individuals that seeking sickening gratification from the suffering of children is deplorable and illegal. If you are at risk of committing sexual online offences, I urge you, please immediately seek the confidential help that is available to you. If you don’t do that for yourself, those around you and the victims, it’ll just be a matter of time until you are caught.”

“Material of this nature is horrific and damaging. I commend the tireless work of investigators in the Department of Internal Affairs, New Zealand Police and New Zealand Customs Service, who work to protect the lives of children at home and abroad.”

If you have concerns or suspicions about someone who may be trading in or producing child sexual abuse images or videos, contact Customs confidentially on 0800 WE PROTECT (0800 937 768) or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111. If you are, or know of, someone who is at risk or being abused, contact the Police immediately.

/Public Release. View in full here.