“The children involved in this, and not only this but all child abuse material we see on the internet, they are real children, they are real victims and this is the message that sometimes doesn’t get through to offenders.”

Sixteen Australian members of a global pornography network used peer-to-peer file-sharing software to access footage of the sexual abuse of an eight-year-old girl, the AFP says.

Two Melbourne men – a 36-year-old from Mornington and a 30-year-old from Warrandyte – were among those arrested this morning after the execution of 27 search warrants, which the AFP say is likely to be followed by more raids and possible arrests.

The men face up to 10 years’ imprisonment for the offence of possessing child abuse material.

The raids, carried out by AFP Child Protection Operations as part of Operation Furious, followed a referral from German police last December.

The German police have identified more than 9000 potential offenders in 92 countries across the world who accessed the 18-minute video of the digital penetration of the young girl.

Police say the footage was likely to have come from eastern Europe, possibly Moscow, but neither the girl nor the perpetrator have been identified.

Neil Gaughan, the AFP’s National Manager of High Tech Crime Operations, said the operation demonstrated that this type of crime continues to be widespread and that the AFP will continue to pursue these offenders.

“Those arrested range in age from 21 to 49 and come from a variety of backgrounds, including those in the IT field, students, a printing firm manager, insurance claim advisor and a service station operation,” Commander Gaughan said in a statement.

At a media conference this morning, Commander Gaughan said none of the men arrested in Australia worked in jobs that put them in contact with children.

The raids involved police gaining access to the data stored on the computers of the 16 now charged, and has yielded extra footage of child abuse that may lead to further charges.

The child abuse data seized from offenders was 10 terabytes, which the AFP said stacked up in printed form would be enough to cross the Sydney Harbour Bridge 540 times. One of the offenders alone had 8 terabytes of data including more than 1500 movie files.

Commander Gaughan said people who accessed child abuse footage were getting more sophisticated in their attempts to stymie law enforcement authorities. In the case of one of the men arrested, police took six hours to crack encryption codes on the computer.

“I think they are getting smarter. We all should be cognisant of the fact that significant encryption software can actually be purchased from any electronics shop down the road. The skills of the people probably isn’t necessarily improving, but the ability to obtain heavily encrypted software is increasing.”

The men were using peer-to-peer file sharing programs to access the video, and police say there was no evidence they, nor the 9000 men under suspicion worldwide, knew each other.

Police say the footage, which was the only piece of child abuse found on the site, would have been deliberately sought out by those charged and was unlikely to have been accidentally stumbled across.

Those arrested in Australia were one man from NSW, eight men from Queensland, three from South Australia and two each from Western Australia and Victoria.

“We also have laid in excess of 44 charges as of today and we dare say there’ll be further charges to come forward in coming weeks,” Commander Gaughan said.

“It’s clear that the message isn’t getting out there. The fact that our law enforcement colleagues throughout Australia and throughout the world, are continuing to arrest people that are involved in this type of violent crime, but yet people still continue to commit that offence.”

“If people continue to be involved in this type of activity, the AFP with our state and territory colleagues will bring people to justice.”

He said people who downloaded the footage were not considering the impact on the victims of the crime.

“The children involved in this, and not only this but all child abuse material we see on the internet, they are real children, they are real victims and this is the message that sometimes doesn’t get through to offenders.”

In the past 12 months, police have charged 160 people with over 245 offences involving recordings of the abuse of children.