Selfie-Ish Teens Contribute to Global Child Porn Problem

As I discussed in detail in Cybertraps for the Young, one of the most disturbing aspects of the digital revolution is that it has empowered children to commit crimes that once were exclusively the domain of adults. There is no better example than the fact that every single day, thousands of children around the globe are busy using their smartphones, tablets, and Web cams to create images of child pornography by photographing themselves or their friends in the nude.

This point was driven home for investigators in the York Region, a municipal area just outside of Toronto, Ontario. A year ago, detectives went to a home in the area seeking a suspect they had identified as uploading images of an underage male. To their shock, the person who had uploaded the images was the boy in the photographs. That startling discovery helped launch “Operation Hydra,” one of the most far-reaching child pornography investigations in recent memory.

A year after that initial discovery, York Regional Police released extensive information about “Project Hydra.” The global investigation netted 41 arrests, 17 of which occurred in Canada. More upsetting, investigators seized a huge quantity of digital images depicting children in various stages of undress. Investigators believe that there are thousands of unidentified potential victims.

Through their interview with the initial suspect, the investigators were able to learn significant details about the production and distribution of child pornography images around the world.

Following the trails of the victim’s online activity, investigators say they discovered a chatroom holding a large quantity of sexually explicit images and videos of children from infancy up to late teens.

“These rooms weren’t something that you came across unless you knew what they were going to find. They were clearly made for child pornography,” said Det. Mark Van Wolde, one of three York Region ICE detectives who worked on the case full time.

As the investigators delved deeper into the web of child pornography traders, they reached out to a number of other national and international law enforcement agencies to assist in the investigation, including:

  • the Ontario Provincial Police;
  • the Royal Canadian Mounted Police;
  • the Department of Homeland Security;
  • the Federal Bureau of Investigation;
  • various Immigration and Customs Enforcement departments; and
  • Interpol.

Police declined to identify specific chat rooms that were used by predators to solicit images from underage individuals, but did identify the social network Vichatter as one of the resources used by a suspect in the case.

According to one report, a man identified by the RCMP during “Operation Hydra” may have victimized as many as 2,000 young boys “in Canada, the U.S., the U.K., the Netherlands, Australia and Russia.” The police say that the perpetrator used a video of a young girl to induce boys to strip and masturbate on camera; he recorded the boys and distributed the videos over the Interent. Some of the victims, police reported, are as young as 9, and many are completely unaware that they have been victimized.

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