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International mission rescues 44 sexually exploited children

Operation Sunflower saw 245 people arrested.

Image: Old Teddy Photo via Shutterstock

AN INTERNATIONAL OPERATION targeting the sexual exploitation of children has identified 123 at-risk minors and arrested 245 suspects.

US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents identified 123 victims during the mission which hoped to rescue the children and target the individuals who own, trade and produce images of child pornography.

Of the children identified, 44 were rescued directly from their abusers. Another 79 were identified as either being exploited by others outside the home or are now adults who were victimised as children.

The majority of children live in the US and are female. Five were under the age of three, nine were between four and six years old, 21 were aged seven, eight or nine, while 11 were pre-teens. There were 38 identified in the 13 to 15 age bracket, while 15 were either 16- or 17-years-old.

Between 1 November and 7 December, 245 suspects were arrested. Of these, 23 were detained in six different countries, though the ICE declined to specify which ones.

Operation Sunflower was named to remember the agency’s first successful rescue under the Victim Identification Programme.

The Sunflower case began in November 2011 when Danish law enforcement officials shared their discovery of material and posts on a chat board indicating that a 16-year-old boy was planning to rape an 11-year-old girl. The suspect was soliciting advice on a pedophile board and posting images of the girl. One image held a clue that proved to be invaluable to investigators: a yellow road sign visible from the window of a moving vehicle. The road sign depicted a sunflower graphic that was unique to the State of Kansas.

For days, HSI special agents drove in pairs along Kansas highways, seeking a comparison between the images in the photos and the actual locations. Just 13 days after receiving the material, and by combining sophisticated photo forensics with traditional law enforcement methods, special agents located the residence in a small Kansas town. These efforts made it possible for law enforcement to intervene and rescue the girl before she was further victimised.

The agency is now asking for the public’s help to identify a man and a woman who appear in a number of widely-distributed child pornography images. The photos, which were taken 11 years ago, depict a male and female adult molesting a girl who looks to be about 13 years old.

-Additional reporting by AFP

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