I have written before about Atlanta’s unfortunate function as a hub in the sexual exploitation of children, but it has recently come to my attention that our state of Georgia also has the dubious honor of being considered fifth ranked in terms of the number of devices used to transmit and receive child pornography. And law enforcement officers are often helpless to find more than a fraction of it.
But the officials behind Operation Restore Hope have recently struck a huge blow in the continuing fight to protect children from exploitation in child pornography. On Tuesday of last week, federal, state and local law enforcement groups arrested 44 people and confiscated 279 computers in what is believed to be the largest sweep for child pornography ever in the nation.
“We maxed out our resources on this,” said the director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Vernon Keenan.
For the last three months, agents have been orchestrating this strike by tracking known child pornography threads from their offices in Cleveland. Sweeps for targets began the morning of January 12.
Keenan described the images they have found as disturbing. In some of them, the victims are no older than infants. Some of them contain rape of young children – one painful example involved the rape of a four-year-old boy.
Not only the images, but the situations the officers find when they make arrests can be equally disturbing. In some cases, the officers have found children are part of the suspects’ households. In one case, they found that a child in the house was also the one from the images which they had been pursuing online.
“[In] previous experiences, some of the offenders have children in the home and they have been manufacturing their own child pornography,” Keenan said. “The child pornography that they are pursuing is known child pornography — certain files or certain images.”
Some of the warrants issued were the result of fears that children were still being exploited to produce pornography in the houses of the suspects. While this fear seems to be substantiated, no arrests have been made specifically for that at this time. The warrants issued were search warrants for the computers known to be trafficking in the “peer-to-peer” exchange of child pornography, and technicians are still examining those to determine the extent of the evidence in these cases. “Peer-to-peer” exchanges allow the exchange of documents – images and video – from one subscriber’s hard drive to another’s. In some cases, a subscriber does not even know the exchange has taken place.
Last week’s sweep followed Operation Shattered Innocence from last March, when 27 people were arrested and over 100 computers seized.
“This time we’re looking for 89 different targets,” Keenan reported.
“We are so early in this operation, we do not know how many [child porn images] we’re going to find on people’s computers. But we know we found a lot of child pornography today.”
As readers and Georgia residents, we can only hope that Operation Restore Hope is able to turn the tide against the sexual exploitation of our children, at least to some small degree.