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THE PROTECTORS
Police unit Snares Child- Sex Offenders

YOU could forgive Grant Stevens for being sickened - and angry - when doing his job. Even repulsed.
He and his small team of crime- fighters are locked in a crusade against pedophiles, some of whom are now grandfathers and have committed sex crimes over many decades.
Under the direction of 40-year-old Detective Superintendent Stevens, the SA Police Pedophile Task Force was set up 16 months ago with the specific task of tracking down child- sex offenders and bringing them to justice.
Since then, the team of 13 has investigated more than 300 allegations of historical child sexual abuse. As a result, police have arrested and reported 17 people involved in the alleged sexual abuse of 39 victims, aged from five to teenagers.
Most recently, in August, nine men aged between 45 and 83 were arrested or reported tor various sexual offences - among them a former Scout leader, a former Anglican Church minister and one- time junior coach with Surf Life Saving SA.
Because they abuse their positions of trust, people such as them are dubbed "groomers" by police.
"It's not often we, as police, get the opportunity to contribute to something as significant as what the pedophile task force is achieving for victims of historical sexual abuse," Supt Stevens said.
"And there is a great deal of satisfaction for the investigators in being able to help victims, and they find this rewarding." Moves are currently under way to double the size of the task farce - with the support of the State Government through a $4 million injection of funds.
"This will enable SAPOL to maintain its ongoing commitment to the investigation of historical sexual offences," Supt Stevens said.
Four extra sworn police officers and 10 civilians - working in the areas of research and support - will join the team of investigators and victim management officers.
The extra personnel will be vital in dealing with another 600 reports of child-sex abuse in South Australia.
Members of the task force played an integral role in Operation Auxin, last month's nationwide crackdown on Internet child pornography which resulted in the arrests of 161 people.
In SA, six people were reported for possessing child pornography, and another 38 are still being investigated as part of Operation Auxin.
Supt Stevens said the raids were a clear warning to sex offenders.
"No matter how long ago they committed an offence against a child, we are likely to catch up with them," he said.
"I cannot provide information regarding the number of investigations being conducted at this time, but am able to say that investigations are under way and we expect that there will be more arrests for historical child-sex offences."
Even though detectives are dealing with hundreds of allegations, Supt Stevens said each case was taken "very seriously".
The majority have filtered through to the task force investigators from phone calls made to the Crime Stoppers hotline.
Some victims have also sent letters to the task force's Wright St office in the city.
"When a person has the courage to come forward and is prepared to leave their name, they are contacted personally by an investigator who conducts a preliminary assessment of the information the person is able to provide," Supt Stevens said.
Given the nature of the work, some cases can take months before any outcome is reached.
Sometimes the task is made even harder by sketchy details provided by the victims - understandable considering that most were children or teenagers when they were sexually abused. "And the passing of time can impact on the success of locating a person in these circumstances," Supt Stevens said.
"Despite that, SAPOL investigators have worked hard and will continue to do so to bring about a resolution for victims."
When Supt Steve us was appointed to head the team in May last year, it was ostensibly charged with the responsibility of investigating allegations within the Adelaide Diocese of the Anglican Church.
Less than six months later, the task force's responsibilities were extended to include allegations of historical child sexual abuse within child care and welfare organisations.
It culminated in a phone-in day in October, 2003, titled "It's never too late to tell".
This was after statutory limitations of time for sex offences before 1982 was lifted in June.
Police received more than 340 phone calls to the Crime Stoppers hotline.
Supt Stevens has acknowledged victims' courage in coming forward on that day and since.
"I am certain their actions will play a key part in reducing opportunities for child sexual offenders to commit offences in the future," he said. "Because by coming forward and initiating investigations, victims are contributing to an increased awareness in relation to child sexual abuse.
"And this awareness extends to those organisations that have a responsibility for the care and welfare of children."
A focus of the task force has - and will continue to be - "groomers".
"They engage the child in activities they would find appealing - spending money on them and providing gifts, as well as just spending time with the child and allowing them to do things that parents may not, such as smoking or drinking," Supt Stevens said.
"The grooming process then escalates to the point where the offender introduces pornography, intimate touching and sexually-based conversations with the child."
He said they often used the same principles against the parents or guardians of the intended victim by "developing a level of trust and access that allows them to offend against the child".
"The majority of allegations received by the task force involve scenarios where the offender has used the grooming process to commit offences," he said.
Victims of child sexual abuse are urged to contact police through CrimeStoppers 1800 333 000 or Respond SA, the Adult Childhood Sexual Abuse Service.
"We hope other victims will be encouraged by these outcomes and come forward and report their matters," Supt Stevens said.

Sunday Mail (10-10-2004)
Anna Merola
 

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