ADELAIDE, South Australia - An international pedophile network which saw staged sexual acts involving children being provided for live viewing by men has been busted.
The perpetrators, five women, have all been arrested. Thirteen children, one of whom was just 3 when first abused, and two young women have been rescued.
A 68-year old man living in Adelaide, the South Australian capital, has been jailed for more than 15 years and had his house, where live webcams were being received, confiscated.
The man, Ian Ralph Schapel, paid the abusers in the Philippines to instruct the children to stage live sexual acts while he watched on webcam at his home. He would sometimes direct the proceedings as they occurred using Skype and WhatsApp.
He received his sentence of imprisonment from the District Court of South Australia on Wednesday.
Schapel pled guilty in February last year to fifty offences, which included charges relating to viewing, remotely instructing, and recording the sexual abuse of children, aged between 3 and nine, on 55 occasions between March 2018 and January 2020.
He was prosecuted in Australia, while the victims and facilitators were identified in the Philippines as a result of an investigation by the Australian Federal Police, South Australia Police (SAPol), Australian Border Force (ABF), the Philippine National Police (PNP) and Philippine National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).
The case was also the first time that the AFP-led Criminal Assets Confiscation Taskforce (CACT) sought to confiscate the home of a person charged with child sex offences in accordance with Commonwealth proceeds of crime and confiscation laws. The man was not accused of profiting from his crimes, but of using his property as an instrument of crime to commit serious offences.
In November 2020 and May 2021, the AFP sought, and obtained, Supreme Court of South Australia restraining orders under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 in relation to Schapel's house which did not have a mortgage,. The house was where many of his internet-based offences took place.
The confiscation proceedings were settled in late 2021, resulting in him paying the Australian government $165,000 - half the value of the house - in order to keep the home.
The Australian criminal investigation was launched in February 2020 after ABF officers examined Schapel's baggage when he arrived in Melbourne, Victoria on a flight from overseas, an annual event since he retired from the South Australian Public Service.
Officers found child abuse material on his mobile phone and called in the AFP.
Schapel was charged over the illegal content, and the case was allocated to the South Australia Joint Anti Child Exploitation Team (SA JACET), the specialist task force comprising AFP and SA Police officers who investigate child exploitation offences in South Australia.
A digital forensic examination of his data storage devices uncovered what was described as horrific footage of sexual acts involving children.
Police found more than 55,000 images and videos of child abuse material on his devices.
Further investigations by SA JACET found Schapel communicated with adult 'facilitators' in the Philippines to procure several children for his depraved requests. The children were forced to perform sexually explicit acts on camera, which he watched live from his suburban Adelaide home.
SA JACET arrested and charged him with additional offences in April 2020.
The AFP's International Command in the Philippines engaged Philippine authorities and referred intelligence about the identities of the people suspected of being involved in the abuse to the Philippine Internet Crimes Against Children Centre (PICACC).
This led to an investigation by Philippine authorities executing search warrants at multiple locations in Bislig City, a remote area in the country's east, in August 2020.
Thirteen children and two young adults were removed from harm, and five women were arrested, accused of facilitating their exploitation and abuse for profit.
The facilitators were aged between 18 and 29 at the time, and some are the mothers of the victims.
One of the women charged was then an 18-year-old who allegedly offered three girls online to offenders her nine-year-old niece, 12-year-old cousin, and her eighteen-year-old best friend.
The accused women remain before the courts in the Philippines.
"Children are being forced into the most appalling violence and torment on camera by the people who are meant to love and to protect them. The abuse is then live streamed to customers in western nations; shamefully that includes Australia," AFP Commander Central Erica Merrin said Wednesday.
"This Adelaide man did not just watch children being hurt - he ordered specific abuse to happen and preyed on the economic vulnerability of the people involved."
AFP International Command Detective Superintendent Andrew Perkins said child sex offenders were not restricted by national or international borders but neither were law enforcement agencies.
"The rescues and arrests are a powerful reminder of why the AFP works closely with partners around the globe sharing intelligence and the resources necessary to target anyone who preys on children, no matter where in the world they are hiding," he said Wednesday.
"We all have the same dedication to protecting children who do not have the means or mechanism to defend themselves."
Philippine National Police Chief of the Women and Children Protection Centre, Police Brigadier general Edgar De Mayo Cacayan said close collaboration with the Australian Federal Police and other international partners should send a strong message to would-be child sex offenders.
"You will not buy and sell the sexual abuse of children in the Philippines," Brigadier General De Mayo Cacayan said Wednesday. "We will not allow it, and we will be their guardians. "We will find you, and you will have to answer for your actions in a court of law."
ABF Chief Superintendent Bart England said the outcome sent a strong message of deterrence to those engaging with child abuse material in any way.
"The ABF will continue to use all resources at its disposal to counter this appalling activity. It is when we working together like this that we can achieve the most effective outcomes," Chief Superintendent England said Wednesday.
68-year-old Schapel pleaded guilty to the following 50 offences.
- Forty-one counts of engaging in sexual activity with a child outside Australia, contrary to section 272.9(1) of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth);
- Three counts of persistent sexual abuse of child outside Australia, contrary to section 272.11(1) of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth);
- Two counts of accessing child pornography using a carriage service, contrary to section 474.19(1)(a)(i) of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth);
- Accessing child abuse material, contrary to 474.22(1)(a)(i) of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth);
- Possessing child abuse material outside of Australia, contrary to section 273.6(1)(a) of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth);
- Obtaining child abuse material outside of Australia, contrary to section 273.6(1)(a)(ii) of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth); and
- Aggravated possession of child pornography material, contrary to section 63A of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935 (SA).
Schapel was sentenced to 15 years, three months and 19 days' imprisonment, with a non-parole period of ten years, for the Commonwealth offences. He was also sentenced to nine months' imprisonment for the State offence. The sentences will be served cumulatively and take into account time already served.
The CACT brings together the resources and expertise of the AFP, Australian Taxation Office, Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, AUSTRAC and Australian Border Force. Together, these agencies trace, restrain and ultimately confiscate criminal assets.
*The money confiscated in this matter was placed into the Commonwealth Confiscated Assets Account, from which funds are distributed by the Attorney-General (as Minister responsible) to support various initiatives, including those focused on the protection of children.
The AFP and its partners say they are committed to stopping child exploitation and abuse and the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation is driving a collaborative national approach to combat child abuse.
The ACCCE brings together specialist expertise and skills in a central hub, supporting investigations into online child sexual exploitation and developing prevention strategies focused on creating a safer online environment.
Research conducted by the ACCCE in 2020 revealed only about half of parents talked to their children about online safety.
An award-winning podcast launched last year by the ACCCE 'Closing The Net' is working to change that, showcasing that knowledge is power and that our only chance to help prevent this issue is if we bring a 'whole-of-community' response.
The podcast series offers valuable tips and advice on how to keep kids safe online.