SYDNEY, Australia - A 16-year old girl who went missing from her home on Sydney's North Shore in April last year, resulting in a massive search, was subsequently located living in New York with a 39-year old man who had groomed her online.
On Sunday, federal and local police in Australia issued a statement about the case, and announcing that the 39-year old Queens, New York man Sean Price, who is now 40, has been sentenced to 35 years in prison.
The Australian teenager was reported missing by her family in April 2017 to North Shore Police. An investigation was commenced, with the Australian Federal Police becoming involved once it was found the girl had left her home in Sydney and flown overseas.
International liaison between the AFP, the New York Police Department (NYPD) and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) led to the girl being located in Queens, New York in May 2017. The NYPD and HSI successfully recovered the girl in the basment of Price's mother's home, where the then 39-year-old Queens, New York, man was arrested. The girl, who has an anxiety disorder, was returned to Australia and reunited with her family.
On 15 December 2017, a federal jury in the U.S. returned a guilty verdict in the case, and on Friday (21 September 2018), Price was sentenced in Brooklyn, New York to 35 years’ imprisonment.
During the course of the trial, it was established Price had built an online relationship with the teenager, with the intent of engaging in sexual activity. This involved him persuading the girl to send him nude photos of herself. Evidence obtained from online messages tendered in court showed he was aware of the age of the teenager and was grooming her in an attempt to get her to travel for the purposes of sex. It was alleged the man co-erced the teenager to leave the country without her parents’ knowledge, paid for her flights and falsified a passport to enable her to travel from Australia. Prioce met her in Los Angeles and the pair drove across the United States to Queens, in New York. Price admitted the two hade sex alopng the way.
Members of the AFP and NSWPF were involved as key witnesses during the trial, contributing evidence under cross-examination to ensure a successful prosecution by U.S. authorities.
AFP acting Commander Joanne Cameron, Manager Victim Based Crime, said the case highlights a devastating reality for many parents – children can be communicating online with complete strangers who know how to seek out and prey on vulnerabilities.
“When our kids are online, we are helping them to discover the wealth of information out there, and this access to technology should never be discouraged. But what we would encourage is for parents to be alive to the risks and to educate themselves, and their kids, about them,” A/Commander Cameron said.
“We are dedicated and committed to stopping these predators who seek out our children for their own twisted benefit, and with the recent opening of the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation, we expect to continue working together with our partners who share these same goals.“
North Shore Police Area Commander, Detective Superintendent Allan Sicard said the NSW Police Force works closely with other law enforcement agencies in Australia and overseas to target those people involved in the online exploitation of children.
“The use of the Internet by predators is an emerging trend and growing exponentially because the web is so widely used by people of all ages," he said.
“This is a timely reminder for all parents to spend time talking to your children about the dangers associated with online conversations, particularly when communicating with someone they have only ever met online,” said Detective Superintendent Sicard.
The ThinkUKnow online safety education program is a law enforcement and industry partnership between the AFP, Microsoft, Datacom, Commonwealth Bank, delivered in collaboration with State and Territory police and Neighbourhood Watch Australasia.