CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — A tip from U.S. authorities has exposed a major child sex abuse ring in Australia with links to the United States, Canada, Asia, Europe and New Zealand, police said on Wednesday.
A childcare worker and a children’s soccer coach were among 16 men arrested in the Australian states of New South Wates, Queensland and Western Australia in recent months on 828 charges of sexually abusing children, producing and distributing child abuse material and bestiality, Australian Federal Police Assistant Commissioner Justine Gough said.
Investigators identified 46 victims in Australia aged 16 months to 15 years.
“No child should be subjected to abuse and violence from the people they trust, whether that is a family member, a childcare worker or a soccer coach,” Gough said. “Sadly and heartbreakingly, this has been the case for the victims” abused in Australia.
Police referred 18 “matters” to the United States, where three men have been arrested for multiple offenses related to child abuse material, Gough said.
Another 128 matters were referred to authorities in Canada, Asia, Europe and New Zealand for investigation. Police have not elaborated on those allegations.
The U.S. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, a government-funded nonprofit, provided Australian police with their initial tip in February that a man in New South Wales was uploading child abuse material, Gough said.
Police arrested a 30-year-old man in Wyong, a town north of Sydney, and a search of his computer revealed social media forums he was part of.
The ring used “the regular internet” as well as the dark web to share material, Gough said.
“It’s a very, very large investigation that we’ve uncovered,” Gough said.
U.S. Homeland Security Investigations attache to Australia Adam Parks declined to comment on the three arrests in the United States because prosecutions were underway. There were several ongoing investigations in the United States, he said.
Parks did not say where the initial tip to the U.S. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children came from, but he said such tips typically come from U.S. social media companies that report finding abusive material on their platforms.
He described the pedophile ring as a global network “rooted in Australia.”