THE HAGUE, Netherlands – A special task force has helped law officers around the world to rescue more than 240 victims of child sex abuse and bring almost 100 offenders to justice since 2014, Europol said Friday.
Europe's policing agency for the first time released the figures as its fifth annual Victim Identification Task Force wound down following a two-week operation.
"As a direct outcome of the previous 4 Victim Identification Task Forces, we have been able to identify and rescue 241 victims around the world," said Fernando Ruiz, operations head at Europol's Cyber Crime unit.
"Some 94 offenders have been prosecuted in 28 countries" since the task force was established four years ago, Ruiz told AFP.
AFP was given access deep inside the heart of Europol's EC3 Cyber Crime Centre, where detectives were hard at work scanning their computer screens for possible evidence of child sexual abuse.
This year, 27 police detectives from 20 countries including EU member states, Australia and the United States, took part.
The detectives scanned hundreds of thousands of pictures and eventually came up with 91 so-called "series" of images depicting child abuse. A single series can link from two to more than 5,000 pictures.
The information, so-called "intelligence packages," is then sent to countries where the offenders and victims have been identified for further investigation and eventual prosecution by local police.
"The likely countries of production have been determined and these countries informed, so that they can start their own investigations," Ruiz said.
He declined to name specific hotspots around the world but said "there could be more victims in countries where children are less protected."
Europol also praised the efforts of the public and collective groups who helped the agency track child sex victims or offenders through Europol's website called "Stop Child Abuse - trace an Object".
Launched last year, the site shows everyday objects spotted in the background of child sex abuse images to help police pinpoint the location of where the crime might have taken place.
"We've had this site up for one year and received 22,000 emails in response. We didn't expect this reaction," said Europol's deputy director Wil van Gemert.
"Because of this seven children have been saved," he told AFP.
Europol in 2016 warned that online child pornography including the live-streaming of child sexual abuse was on the rise.
Dutch police last year for the first time called the scourge of child sexual abuse "a national threat." – Rappler.com