Officials announced this week the results of a federal investigation into one of the largest online child pornography rings in U.S. history. The case involves hundreds of victims, some younger than 3 years old, across 39 U.S. states and five countries and led to 14 people being arrested so far.
Most of the roughly 250 juveniles whose explicit images were posted on an underground child porn site were male. According to the Dallas Morning News, predators posing as young girls coaxed the boys into participating in lewd webcam videos and then shared the videos on the so-called “Dark Web,” or Tor network, which allows users to conceal their identities.
“Children are being enticed, tricked and coerced online by adults to produce sexually explicit material of themselves,” Daniel Ragsdale, deputy director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said during a news conference on Tuesday. “They had no idea it was a strange man.”
“Operation Round Table” was a joint investigation between the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the U.S. Postal Service and the office of the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana. Among those arrested was the website’s administrator, 27-year-old Jonathan Johnson, from Abita Springs, La. He was charged with operating a child exploitation enterprise, according to the Tyler Morning Telegraph.
"These alleged perpetrators preyed upon the most innocent, most vulnerable members of our society with no regard to the immediate or lasting harm they caused to their victims and their families," Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said at a news conference.
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The website was opened in June 2012 and operated until June 2013. The site contained over 2,000 videos and had more than 27,000 members. While the majority of the victims were between the ages of 13 and 15, the ages ranged from 3 years old or younger to around 16 and 17.
“Never before in the history of this agency have we identified and located this many minor victims in the course of a single child exploitation investigation,” Ragsdale said.
Investigators said some of the videos involved family pets being used in graphic sex acts. There was even an instance of an 18- to 20-year-old male sexually assaulting an infant. Authorities say many of the victims have been notified that their videos were posted on a child porn website and offered counseling services.