The Australian Federal Police released a series of seemingly arbitrary images to the public today—a t-shirt, the corner of a child’s blanket, what appears to be a row of bathroom tiles—in an attempt to track down paedophiles and solve child sexual abuse cold cases.
All nine pictures have been cropped out of child sexual abuse footage from cases investigators are yet to solve—some of them months old, some years old—before being digitally enhanced and posted online. Officers are hoping that certain details in the images might serve as clues; that members of the public will recognise something and report it to police, thus helping them track down paedophiles and people who are profiting from child exploitation.
"[The images] form part of a puzzle,” Hilda Sirec, the AFP Commander of the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE), told the ABC. “And we're asking the community to help us with that puzzle."
AFP Assistant Commissioner Lesa Gale implored members of the public to analyse the pictures and see whether any of the details ring a bell.
“If you recognise an object and any details about its origin—be it from a shop, location or time period—please report it via the ACCCE website,” she said in a statement. “No clue is too small. Your small tip could be the information we need to rescue a child from significant harm.”
The images have been made public as part of the Australian arm of the 'Trace an Object' program, which was launched in Europe in 2017. In that time the program has helped Europol save 10 children, based on over 20,000 tip offs from members of the public, from what Team Leader of Europol’s Analysis Project Twins Cathal Delaney described as “the most horrific kind of abuse.
“These children would not have been identified if it were not for Trace an Object,” said Delaney. “We are very excited for this project to launch outside of Europe for the very first time. We believe it will contribute to saving more children.
“Your one piece of information could lead to the rescue of a child down the line.”
To source the images, eight victim identification specialists from the ACCCE spend every working day closely examining abhorrent child sexual abuse photos and videos, looking for clues and commonalities. Anything—a piece of furniture; a car in the periphery of the frame; a television show in the background; a reflection on a surface—could help police catch a paedophile and rescue a child or children from harm. As Assistant Commissioner Gale writes in The Australian, it is a process that can take years.
In 2020, 191 people in Australia were charged with 1847 alleged child abuse-related offences, and 89 children were removed from harm.
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