245 Arrested in US – Led Child Sex Abuse Operation
Washington (CNN) — An international operation led by
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement aimed at child pornography and
sexual abuse has resulted in the arrest of 245 suspects, officials
announced Thursday. All but 23 of the suspects were apprehended in the
The agency said that during the course of Operation Sunflower, law
enforcement officers identified 123 victims of child exploitation and
removed 44 of those children from their alleged abusers with whom they
were living. The other cases involved victims who were exploited by
people outside their homes or children who were harmed years ago and are
Several of the children were shockingly young. Five were under age 3.
Nine were between the ages of 4 and 6. Of the 123 victims, 110 lived in
the United States in 19 different states. ICE officials did not
identify the six other countries where victims were identified or where
some of the arrests were made, citing the need to work discreetly with
international law enforcement partners.
According to ICE, some of those arrested during Operation Sunflower were registered sex offenders.
Operation Sunflower was conducted in November and December, but
efforts are continuing on other cases. During a news conference, ICE
Director John Morton said the agency was calling on the public to
provide tips and mentioned several open investigations. One of those
cases involves the sexual molestation of an unidentified girl thought to
be around 13.
Investigators believe the abuse took place about 11 years ago, but
the pornographic images were widely circulated. ICE has posted pictures
of an unidentified woman and man suspected of abusing the girl on its
website. The woman has some distinctive tattoos that investigators hope
will lead to tips about her identity.
Based on a forensic analysis of the pornographic images in that case,
investigators think the abuse occurred in the Los Angeles or San
Fernando Valley area of California. Although the girl may now be an
adult, ICE officials want to identify and prosecute the suspects and
prevent them from harming new victims.
“Forensic analysis technology has become critical in the fight
against child exploitation,” Morton said. “We are coming across these
images on the Internet. They are being produced in one country but
shared literally around the world, often in real time.”
Morton said ICE works with other law enforcement agencies and with
the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to look for clues
in the pictures of abuse to identify where the acts occurred and track
down the victims and perpetrators.
The name Operation Sunflower was chosen to commemorate a case from
2011 in which Danish law enforcement officials shared images and chat
board information about a 16-year-old boy who allegedly planned to rape
an 11-year-old girl. One image taken from a moving car showed a road
sign with a sunflower on it. ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations
determined that the road sign was unique to Kansas. Agents were then
able to find the exact stretch of road where the picture was taken and
to locate the girl.
18 rescued in child pornography raids, feds say
3 Mexican brothers extradited to U.S. to face 25 counts linked to sex trafficking
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