Police investigation uncovers sex offenders “grooming” teenagers online

By Helene Fung

An investigation by WA Police’s Sex Offender Management Squad, dubbed Operation Timing Belt, has identified offenders who engaged in inappropriate contact with 140 young people aged between 13 and 19.

A total of 18 offenders, aged from 18 to 41, have been charged with 214 charges altogether, of which 79 are of a sexual nature; others include charges in relation to drugs, trespassing and cruelty to animals.

Some of those charged are Reportable Offenders, whose contact with children are limited and are reportable to police under the Community Protection (Offender Reporting) Act 2004.

Breaching these obligations can result in imprisonment.

Acting Detective Senior Sergeant Matt Daly said that the majority of offences are non-physical communication via social media platforms, often via mobile phones.

“This contact allegedly breaches the accused persons’ obligations as a Reportable Offender and further to that constitutes ‘grooming’ – whereby the offender is attempting to build a relationship with the youth to ultimately engage in sexual contact with them,” said Acting Detective Senior Sergeant Daly.

The rising popularity of social media platforms and use of mobile phones provides offenders with new ways to reach out to young people.

State Crime Assistant Commissioner Brad Royce said this should be a reminder for parents and guardians the importance of cyber safety, and that they should know the online habits of their children.

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