Stop the Stigma
Online child sexual exploitation: How I learnt I (and you) can help

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Image: Perpetrator usernames and locations pinned to a cork-board full of global suspects. Source: The Children in the Pictures homepage.

Trigger Warning: child abuse themes.

Due to themes of child sexual abuse and exploitation, this content may be distressing to some people. If this article causes any distress, support is available at

Online child sexual exploitation is the world’s fastest-growing major crime. Less than a thousand police worldwide are dedicated to preventing it.

The Children in the Pictures

Those less-than-a-thousand have one of the toughest jobs in law enforcement. The toughest job. And yet there’s theme parks on the Gold Coast that have more employees – Dreamworld alone has more than 1200. 

The Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE) is an Australian Federal Police led, national effort to prevent and protect children from online sexual exploitation. It was announced by the Australian Government in 2018 in response to the increasing number and severity of reports of child exploitation. 

The world-leading organisation brings together capabilities and expertise from across federal, state and territory, non-government agencies, private industry and the community, “allowing a cross-pollination of resources, knowledge and skillsets between stakeholders”.

Rarely do we wonder about the work they do, let alone think about the horrendous crimes they fight daily. It’s easier to put those thoughts somewhere very far in the back of our minds. But ACCCE says it’s time for that to change – for everyone to break their silence.

It’s time to talk about child sexual exploitation.

In 2021 alone:

  • The ACCCE Child Protection Triage Unit received more than 33,000 reports of child sexual exploitation – nearly 12,000 more than the number of reports received in 2020, and more than double the number of reports received in 2019.
  • The AFP charged 237 offenders with 2,032 alleged child abuse-related offences.
  • ACCCE reviewed more than 217,000 media files that relate to reports of child sexual abuse and exploitation.

In the same year, 114 children were freed from harm – 49 from Australia and 65 from around the world. 

The Children in the Pictures.

Recently, we were given a window into the astonishing, confronting, work that ACCCE and the specialist Queensland police unit Task Force Argos do in the groundbreaking documentary, The Children in The Pictures

This film, co-directed by Akhim Dev and Simon Nasht, does not want people to walk out or switch off because they can’t cope with what they are seeing. The filmmakers, and the members of Argos, want people to watch, care and act.

Stephen Romei
The Weekend Australian, A harrowing must-see

To watch. Care. And act.

The film shines a light on the darkest corners of the internet where child abuse material is produced, shared and sought. We watch as some of the world’s best detectives go undercover to infiltrate global criminal networks, and describe the extents they’ll go to rescue even one child from harm. 

I went into the film after mentally preparing myself beforehand, expecting to come out of it feeling really disturbed and upset. While the stories are truly harrowing, you’re left feeling oddly reassured and hopeful. Learning about online child exploitation and talking about it feels like a step in the right direction out of what felt like a safe ignorance-is-bliss space. Every one of us has a role to play in using our voices to protect innocent children around the world.

We’re trying to get society to accept that this actually is as significant an issue as it is. This is a village issue, a global village issue, and we need a global village response to it.

Jon Rouse
Manager Covert Operations, Victim Identification and Training, ACCCEThe Children in the Pictures

Where we come in.

We’re extremely proud to have worked with ACCCE to refine and extend their brand, strengthening audience engagement and aligning it more closely with their vision to free children from exploitation. 

The brand represents multi-agency involvement and state-of-the-art technology, creating a safety net for the protection of children. Their determination in everything they do was, and remains, unwavering, reassuring, and trailblazing in their approach. 

But our work didn’t end there. There is work for all of us to do. ACCCE calls on us to Stop the Stigma and join a community-driven campaign to break the silence on online child sexual abuse. In taking that step, “survivors are more likely to seek support. Perpetrators will find it harder to hide. This is vital for preventing this crime from happening to our children.” — Stop the Stigma, ACCCE

Online child sexual exploitation is a reality. And one that felt immovable for a long time. But in watching the film and writing this article I’ve learnt that you, like me, can do small things that count in a big way. Write about it. Read about it. Talk about it.

Where to start:

  • Watch and join The Children in the Pictures campaign.

  • Start conversations about child sexual exploitation to Stop the Stigma (remembering to make sure the people you talk to have the capacity to speak about it).

  • Learn about Trace An Object, helping officers identify objects in the background of child sexual abuse images.

For more information and help, visit

If you need immediate assistance or support, contact
Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800
Lifeline 13 11 14

Written by:
Mel Stenner,
Strategic Designer