WASHINGTON U.S. special agents identified 123 victims of child sexual exploitation during a five-week-long global crackdown on child pornography that resulted in the arrests of 245 people in the United States and overseas, U.S. officials said on Thursday.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents launched "Operation Sunflower" to rescue child victims and find people who trade and produce child pornography. The operation took place across the United States and in six countries and involved children as young as 2 years old.
"This operation is ultimately a tale of the perverse, pervasive and violent exploitation of children, very young children, to satisfy the dark pleasures of a group of twisted adults," said ICE Director John Morton. "The grim reality is that online child exploitation is a very real part of our modern lives and is going on throughout the world right now on a grand scale."
ICE's Homeland Security Investigations special agents rescued 44 children directly from their abusers. Most of the 123 victims of exploitation were from the United States but about a dozen were in foreign countries.
Morton would not say which foreign countries were involved in the operation although he did say some of the arrests of the suspects took place in Mexico.
"The problem of child exploitation is hardly confined to the United States," Morton said. "Almost every case we touch and investigate has a very strong overseas component."
Increased usage of the Internet has allowed a much greater immediacy to pornography, Morton said, and in some cases child abuse is streamed live over the Internet.
(Reporting by Deborah Charles; Editing by Eric Beech)