Police services across Ontario charged 122 people with 551 charges related to online child sexual abuse last month alone — a disturbing snapshot into a crime the OPP says is seeing its victims get younger and abuse more violent.
The arrests represent just a fraction of a “multimillion-dollar business” officials say has profited from the pain and abuse of more than 2,000 children in the cases they’ve investigated over the past 12 years.
The latest charges laid by the OPP and 26 other police agencies were announced during a news conference in Vaughan, Ont., Wednesday. A total of 55 victims were also identified during the past month of investigations and referred to community support services.
The youngest victim was three years old.
“Sadly, we are seeing the children getting younger, as well as the acts depicted more violent,” said OPP Staff Sgt. Sharon Hanlon, co-ordinator of the provincial strategy to protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation on the internet.
Police said one purpose of their news conference was to convey the massive scope of online sexual abuse of children in Ontario.
To emphasize that scale, the OPP highlighted statistics over the past 12 years from the Provincial Strategy to Protect Children from Sexual Abuse and Exploitation on the Internet.
Since its launch in 2006, investigators have accomplished the following:
- 50,403 investigations of internet exploitation.
- 5,686 persons charges with 20,901 charges.
- 2,009 child victims identified in Ontario and around the world.
“People profit from the harm done to the most vulnerable members of our society,” said OPP Deputy Commissioner Rick Barnum. “They profit from hurting children.”
The internet hosts websites depicting “every type of child abuse imaginable,” he added.
“Every image of child sexual abuse represents a real victim. Every trading or transmission of that image is a revictimization of that child.”
Insp. Tina Chalk, from the OPP’s counter exploitation and missing persons section, said it’s important for people to understand that images and video depicting child porn are a reality in Ontario.
“Some of these victims are so young they cannot report the crimes because they have not uttered their first word. They cannot say no, they cannot tell anyone and they cannot call the police,” she said.
Abusers are neighbours, relatives, friends
Teachers, emergency personnel, members of the military and family members were among those charged last month, according to Hanlon.
“You need to know that these people are our neighbours, relatives and friends. These are people we invite into our worlds because we trust them.
Hanlon described child pornography as a borderless crime and said some of the November charges were made after tips from the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.
Police tracked the accused using online tools along with disclosures from children and undercover work by “tenacious, hardworking, dogs-on-a-bone investigators,” she added.
Just the tip of the iceberg
Last month, police in Ontario identified 843 unique IP addresses for computers across the province that accessed or made child pornography available.
“I think we would all agree this is disturbing to say the least but I’m here today to tell you that is the tip of the iceberg,” said Hanlon, explaining that number does not include people using technology to avoid detection, luring children or creating child pornography “each and every day.”
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