Ontario Provincial Police say 122 people have been charged with a total of 551 child pornography-related offences in November alone, numbers investigators insist provide a troubling snapshot of child exploitation across the province.
“What is identified legally as child pornography is in fact evidence of child sexual abuse,” OPP Deputy Commissioner Rick Barnum said during a news conference in Vaughan, Ont., Wednesday morning.
“This evidence captured and shared by like-minded criminals is in every corner of the internet. This means that not only are our children being harmed in ways that will scar them for the rest of their lives, but the evidence of this abuse is shared by countless others across this province, across the county, and in fact, around the world.”
Police said that among those charged, 12 have been previously convicted of child sexual abuse and 11 are youths under the age of 18.
“Charged persons include former and present teachers, emergency service personnel, we have members of our military, engineers, immediate family members of the victims, and we have a female,” OPP Staff Sgt. Sharon Hanlon said.
“I think it’s clear this crime crosses all demographics, of wealth, employment, social status and age.”
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Investigators said they have identified 55 victims with the youngest being three years of age.
“This means that 55 victims have been removed from the cycle of abuse they were experiencing at the hands of these offenders in this last month alone,” Hanlon said.
The child exploitation strategy, which incorporates law enforcement agencies across the province, community partners and assistance from U.S. authorities, began in 2006 and has since resulted in more than 50,000 investigations and 5,686 arrests.
Police said they are seeing victims getting younger each year and the acts depicted becoming more violent.
“As is often the case, initial preview of many of the seized devices in these investigations reveals the presence of child sexual abuse material of children from infancy through to 17 years of age,” Hanlon said.
OPP said those arrested face charges including sexual assault, sexual interference, making and distributing child pornography, invitation to sexual touching, luring, and voyeurism.
Child exploitation experts say some of the accused are successful members of society and often use their status to gain their victim’s trust.
“I want to encourage anyone who had similar dealing with these individuals or any such individual to please contact your local police agencies,” Hanlon said.
Police say their investigations into the accused are ongoing and additional charges are pending.
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