U.S. law enforcement officials announced Thursday that 245 people have been arrested in an international investigation of child pornography.
The director of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, John Morton, said 123 victims of child sexual exploitation were identified in an operation designed to rescue victims and target individuals who own, trade or produce images of child pornography.
Morton told reporters in Washington the victims were found in the United States and six other countries. He declined to provide details about which foreign countries were involved, saying only that some of the cases were in Mexico.
Morton said the results of the investigation were significant, but grim.
“Let me also say that these rescues highlight the depth and global nature of this problem. I am deeply appreciative of the assistance we received from so many foreign and local law enforcement agencies in making them,” he said.
Morton said 44 children were rescued from their abusers, while 79 were identified as either being exploited by others outside their home or are now adults who were victimized as children.
He described the investigation as defending the defenseless. “The grim reality is that online child exploitation is a very real part of our modern lives. It is going on throughout the world right now on a grand scale. My friends, we have to attack child exploitation relentlessly and together,” he said.
Federal agents worked closely with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to identify individuals sexually abusing children and taking photos and videos of the acts.
The head of the center, John Ryan, said international cooperation is essential because the majority of the cases involve people overseas.
“We are now seeing over half of these reports having an international nexus, which means either the production of the content or the victims themselves have jurisdiction outside of the U.S. borders.”
Officials say increased use of the Internet has allowed much greater access to child pornography.
In 2012, a record 1,655 people suspected of being child predators were arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.