The Virtual Global Taskforce (VGT) concluded its meetings in Bern, Switzerland. The meetings were chaired by Major General Dr. Nasser Lakherbani Al Nuaimi, Secretary General of the Office of HH Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior, and VGT Chairman.
The VGT released the results of ‘Operation Globe’, a six-month global initiative to combat online child abuse, which resulted in the arrest of 20 offenders, and the identification of approximately 30 victims in 18 cases, some of which are still ongoing. Further arrest and victim identification is expected, while a number of offenders and facilitators are being prosecuted and sentenced to jail terms of up to 16 years.
Major General Dr. Al Nuaimi welcomed the announcement of the results of the operation, which was conducted from June to November 2016, with the participation of seven VGT members: the Australian Federal Police (AFP), Dutch National Police (DNP), Cybercrime Coordination Unit of Switzerland, New Zealand Police, Philippines National Police, the United Arab Emirates Ministry of Interior and the United Kingdom’s National Crime Agency (NCA).
The VGT Chairman stressed that online child abuse often involves live streaming, and is the most horrendous type of crimes in which children are exploited by those who they trust the most. Thanks to concerted efforts of law enforcement agencies worldwide, those children can be protected from all types of abusers.
The VGT recommended setting a framework to coordinate undercover operations on dark-net sites, led by Europol. It also approved VGT website enhancement proposal presented by UAE MoI, the VGT secretariat. Moreover, the VGT approved the UAE MoI’s initiative to prepare a set of capability-building toolkit to provide current and future members with the essential and advanced resources to handle online children exploitation and sexual abuse and share the knowledge with members of the global organization.
The meeting also discussed a number of international projects related to protecting children, and two projects were supported including one related to INTERPOL International Police Certificate –IIPC and the second about the Interpol bulletins, the details of which will be announced soon.
The members voted unanimously on accepting the membership of National Children’s Advocacy Centre (NCAC). The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) Working Group- led by Dutch National Police discussed the over 7 million reports it received during the year, not all cases were actionable due to the lack of information.
The VGT also recommended developing a Best Practices Document (BPD) to be circulated to the specialized companies in the industry, to inform them about what their reports to the NCMEC should include.
The UAE MoI’s suggestion focused on enhancing the VGT website and providing it with further capabilities and content to allow the voice of the VGT to be heard globally and enable additional engagement with it. The features include a button to report abuse, with redirection to the country’s reporting website for online child sexual abuse, library and informational resources, language support, search option, child friendly pages, awareness pop-up messages and a new tablet technologies provided by VGT members for internet safety coupled with ongoing safety tips.
Peter Reijnders, Chief Superintendent of the DNP’s Program for Vice, Child Sexual Abuse Images and Transnational Child Sex Offenses said: “Operation Globe aims to rescue children and arrest the offenders and facilitators of such crimes, as well as shed the light on the way they are committed and provide the appropriate ways to fight them. It also underlines the need for ongoing international cooperation, in the fight against what has become a worldwide crime.”
Officers at the VGT-member law enforcement agencies said that online child abuse is mostly prevalent in areas with higher rates of poverty and larger families, and easy internet access.
Investigations conducted in some countries in South East Asia, Europe, Eastern Europe, and Africa led to people who facilitated the sexual exploitation of children, by dealing with vulnerable children in war-stricken areas who are easily exploited.
Investigations and interrogations of those arrested showed that some offenders paid thousands of dollars for live webcam streaming, each costing between 50-100 USD.
Following their rescue, the abused children were referred to the care of local teams and NGOs. Investigations also showed that due to the nature of this type of sexual exploitation, no country is capable of fighting it alone, which stresses the importance of international cooperation among governments, the private sector and NGOs to address this challenge.
“The VGT is keen to take all necessary measures to protect children around the world from any type of sexual exploitation. We aim to eradicate online children sexual exploitation, identify and prosecute the offenders. Our cooperation with our NGO partners such as International Justice Mission is beneficial for everyone concerned; especially the children,” said Chris Sheehan, AFP acting Assistant Commissioner.
“As law enforcement entities, we are confident that mutual cooperation is the optimal way to cater to the needs of the victims and provide them with the necessary care. This demonstrates the vital role played by NGOs in this regard,” he continued.
Andy Brennan, Deputy Director of the NCA’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Command at the United Kingdom’s National Crime Agency (NCA), highlighted the importance of sharing security intelligence among law enforcement agencies to fight the sexual exploitation of children via live webcam streaming.
“Offenders tend to believe they can get away with their actions because they are in a different country. We have proved them wrong. We will continue to work with our partners around the globe to ensure that offenders and child abusers are arrest and prosecuted, while protecting the children and safeguarding them from further harm,” he added.
The VGT, created in 2003, is an international alliance of law enforcement and private sector agencies that aims to combat online child sexual exploitation and other forms of transnational child sexual exploitation. Members include 13 international police entities, and 20 private sector companies and public welfare institutions.
Since its creation, the VGT has conducted numerous successful investigations around the world, including “Operation Endeavor”, “Operation Rescue”, “Operation Basket” and “Operation Atlas”. As the most recent VGT endeavor, Operation Globe highlights the continuous efforts of the VGT to combat online children exploitation.