There are about 1.5 million online dating profiles in Australia. Some of those belong to single mothers (or indeed, fathers) just doing their best to get back into the dating scene while juggling the demands of work and family.
Most of them will be fine, of course. They might find a date. They might not. But they probably won’t come to harm.
That isn’t always the case.
Detective Inspector Jon Rouse is the Officer in Charge of Queensland Police’s Taskforce Argos, an online crime-fighting squad of 30 active officers who trawl the net for pedophiles and predators. And he’s come across a disturbing trend.
You’ve recently dealt with a horrifying case involving online dating?
That’s correct. We received a tip-off from our international agencies that a man was molesting a little girl under the age of 10. They thought she might be from Queensland. The referral relied on identifying features in photographs taken of the little girl. They might be things like a distinctive Hills Hoist clothesline, or a certain type of tree. We worked on those details and managed to find the location of where this was taking place. We moved straight away and arrested the man and removed the girl from harm’s way.
How did the man find the girl?
This is the horrible part, particularly for the mother of the girl. She was a single mother who wanted to get back into dating and had set up an online profile on a dating site. And you can’t blame her for that. You don’t have to pay for many of them [to set up a profile] and what better way to meet people if you have kids and you don’t go out as much. Unfortunately, we know there are whole groups of predators out there who trawl these profiles looking for women who advertise they have children. And, you know, that makes sense for the mother to be upfront about having kids because that would be a central part of any relationship she may form.
What happened next?
The man was from New Zealand. He had a conviction over there for molesting his own daughter. He came to Australia, met this woman online and forged a relationship with her. But he wasn’t interested in her at all. Unfortunately by the time we received our leads and found the house there were a number of photos – about 15 to 20 images – circulating through predator groups around the world. The mother was absolutely devastated. Just devastated. She blamed herself, of course, but really these predators are very, very good at what they do. And we’re not just talking about the clinical definition of paedophiles here. There is a very specific definition of a paedophile that relates to someone who exclusively preys on children. In this case the NZ man, and others who trawl these sites, are preferential child sex offenders and not strictly paedophiles. They can have sexual relations with an adult quite easily, but they do it to get to their prime target, which is the children in those relationships.
It would be very easy to see this as a reason to just shut the computer and never try online dating after hearing that…
I suppose it would but I really don’t want to cause alarm or panic. I just want people to be aware that an ounce of prevention in these cases really does go a long way. For instance, just put your basic info only on your dating profile. Put yourself out there but don’t mention your kids. If someone genuinely likes you for you then you can think about taking the next step and letting them know about your children if you have them. If you tell them nothing about children these groups will likely not target your profile. Really, this goes for any type of social networking including Facebook and the like. These things should really be locked down. For most people they will never come to any trouble online but I work in the taskforce every day that deals with the worst case scenarios, and I don’t want them to happen to anybody.
Taskforce Argos is a dedicated taskforce with detectives who hunt sex offenders online. They pose as children to identify them and also as other sex offenders to infiltrate their networks. Though based in Queensland, Taskforce Argos has no borders, just like the Internet. It chases leads wherever they go, including internationally. So far this year the Taskforce has made 85 arrests on 275 charges.