November 27, 2015
A crack team of Brisbane-based investigators is leading a global charge against child-sex criminals. Madonna King reports on how Task Force Argos is turning online predators into prey.
Inside Task Force Argos, Australia’s crack paedophile squad, Detective Sergeant Kath Ford, 37, is a seasoned investigator, charged with tracking down online predators preying on children. But inside the terminals of those she targets, she’s a 14-year-old schoolgirl – let’s call her Helen – skipping around the net, while her mother is working late. “I’d like to think it’s not me,” Ford says.
“I’m not engaging that person. It’s Helen. We take on that role, that persona.”
To make it real, Helen needs a whole back-story. She’s a Brisbane schoolgirl, living with her single mother, completing year 10, with loads of friends. Sometimes, Ford will be required to play a schoolboy, too, but always, to escape suspicion, her story needs to be iron-clad. “Are you a cop?” they invariably ask, before the talk turns sexual. That means Ford has to know Helen as well as herself, being able to nominate quickly everything from her marks in maths, to the names of her cousins, to what time her mother will be home. In a high-stakes game where children’s futures are at risk, the mother of two children aged five and eight needs to be a canny actor, where teenage music lyrics roll off the keyboard, along with sentences peppered by “amazeballs”, “LOL” and “OMG”.
“We don’t engage; we always wait to engage,” says Ford, who has also worked as an undercover officer in the Queensland Police Service’s prostitution taskforce. “We don’t throw ourselves out there.” But sooner, rather than later, the talk will turn to sex, and a request to meet from the other side of the screen.
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