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Child pornography ring used social networks to lure 251 victims

There were more than 27,000 subscribers to the website.

US Attorney Kenneth Allen Polite Jr., right, accompanied by US Customs and Border Protection Deputy Commissioner Thomas S. Winkowski, left, and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson speaks during a news conference at the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) headquarters in Washington, where they discussed the results of a international operation involving an underground child pornography website.
US Attorney Kenneth Allen Polite Jr., right, accompanied by US Customs and Border Protection Deputy Commissioner Thomas S. Winkowski, left, and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson speaks during a news conference at the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) headquarters in Washington, where they discussed the results of a international operation involving an underground child pornography website.
Image: (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

FEDERAL PROSECUTORS IN the US have broken up a large online child pornography ring, identifying 251 victims and arresting 14 suspects.

Officials from the Department of Homeland Security said it was one of the largest online child exploitation investigations in the history of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The 251 minor victims are living in 39 US states and five other countries, including the UK, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Belgium.

Eight of the children were female and 243 were male. The majority were aged between 13 and 15 years old. Two victims were younger than 3 years old and one was less than 6 years old.

All victims have been contacted by law enforcement and offered support services.

Fourteen men have been charged and arrested as part of a conspiracy to operate a child exploitation enterprise, confirmed Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson.

They used a website on Darknet, a private network which isn’t discoverable by the major search engines, and the internet privacy tool Tor to operate an underground child porn website between June 2012 and June 2013.

The underground website contained more than 2,000 videos and had more than 27,000 members

The website shared webcam-captured videos of mostly juvenile boys enticed by the operators of the site to produce sexually explicit material.

Tor enables online anonymity, directing Internet traffic through a volunteer network consisting of thousands of relays to conceal a user’s location.

Prison Terms

The site’s primary administrator, Jonathan Johnson (27), admitted to creating multiple fake female personas on popular social networks to target and sexually exploit children.

He also coached other child predators in his inner circle to do the same, according to authorities. He was arrested in June last year and faces between 20 years and life in prison.

“Never before in the history of this agency have we identified and located this many minor victims in the course of a single child exploitation investigation,” said ICE deputy director Daniel Ragsdale.

“Our agency is seeing a growing trend where children are being enticed, tricked and coerced online by adults to produce sexually explicit material of themselves. While we will continue to prioritise the arrest of child predators, we cannot arrest our way out of this problem: education is the key to prevention.”

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