A dedicated workspace allows SIO Jane Chen and her team to investigate offences related to child sexual abuse.
By: Christabelle Lim
The Singapore Police Force (SPF) launched the Cyber Guardian Lab on 26 June 2023, at the Police Cantonment Complex. Located within the Specialised Crime Branch (SCB) of the Criminal Investigation Department, the Lab serves as a dedicated and private workspace for Investigation Officers (IOs) to process Child Sexual Abuse Materials (CSAM) as part of their investigations.
The SPF began investigating such offences targeting the production, distribution, advertising and possession of CSAM, using offences specific to child abuse materials, following amendments to Singapore’s Penal Code that took effect on 1 January 2020.
As an SIO in the SCB, Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Jane Chen investigates offences related to CSAM, vice and trafficking-in-persons. Having served in the Force for almost 10 years, she takes on these responsibilities with commitment, purpose and empathy.
During CSAM investigations, ASP Jane and her colleagues would determine from the CSAM seized if the sexual abuse had happened in Singapore. If it’s established that the victim is overseas, the team consolidates their findings for sharing with the relevant foreign law enforcement agencies for them to identify and rescue the victim and apprehend the offender(s).
Leveraging Tech Tools in One Workspace
Progressively developed from 2020 onwards, the newly launched Lab has various tech tools to aid investigators. These include INTERPOL’s International Child Sexual Exploitation (ICSE) image and video database, an AI programme, CSAM processing software and a Digital Forensics Kiosk.
As part of her work, SIO Jane and her team will utilise the Digital Forensics Kiosk to extract materials from seized storage devices, which will be run through the AI programme to sieve out suspected obscene materials. Thereafter, the obscene materials are analysed by CSAM processing software to see if they have been previously indexed as CSAM.
Newly discovered materials will have to be manually reviewed by the IOs to determine if they are CSAM. New CSAM are then uploaded onto Interpol’s ICSE database so that investigators from other jurisdictions can help identify and rescue victims.
Supporting the Mental Wellbeing of Investigators
Before the operationalisation of the Cyber Guardian Lab, the IOs would process the CSAM at their own workspace, together with their other investigative work. The new, dedicated Lab allows the IOs to set a clearer boundary between these roles.
“Exposure to CSAM is inherently distressing and can lead to both physical and emotional responses, even in very experienced Police officers. Officers may experience nausea, headaches, anger, shock, numbness and a whole range of other symptoms,” explained Ms Tiffany Danker, a Psychologist with the Police Psychological Services Department (PPSD). “That’s why the PPSD has contributed to the Lab through design features that are necessary to support their mental wellbeing.”
Officers who need additional help can also access a range of support measures, from PPSD Psychologists and SPF para-counsellors to mental health resources offered by the Public Service and the community.
Driven to Help Victims
“When I feel overwhelmed, I’ll take a break and do something entirely different, to allow the mind to rest and reset,” explained ASP Jane, who shared that she limits the time spent on CSAM processing to around three to four hours a day. “After that, I’ll move on to other types of cases so that I have time to decompress and not bring these heavy feelings home.”
What drives ASP Jane is the urge to help young victims. In one case last year, she and her team were able to identify a victim abroad, leading to the offender being arrested within a week. “It felt really good,” she recalled.
Find out more about SCB in The Undercover Investigators of the Specialised Crime Branch!