Sydney, Australia, Nov 11 (efe-epa).- Australian police have rescued 46 children and arrested 14 suspects during an investigation into an international child abuse network of an “unprecedented scale.”
The children were aged between 16 months and 15 years, and 16 of them were identified at one child care center, according to a statement by the Australian Federal Police on Wednesday.
Among those arrested is a 27-year-old former child care worker in the state of New South Wales. He faces more than 303 charges and is due in Port Macquarie Court on Jan. 21.
The man is charged with “multiple counts of contact offending, including sexual intercourse with a child under 10 years; indecent assault of a children under 16 years, and intentionally sexually touching a child under 10 years,” the AFP said.
The police allege that the man took advantage of his position in a child care center to gain access to about 30 minors, a situation that his partner, a 22-year-old man, is also alleged to have taken advantage of.
In total, the 14 men arrested face 828 charges of child exploitation, which includes the production and distribution of material of sexual abuse of minors online, as well as bestiality charges related to four animals.
In addition to child care, the detainees, whose ages range from 20 to 48 years, worked in jobs including as a volunteer soccer coach, disability support worker, through to an electrician, supermarket employee and chef.
The operation, dubbed Arkstone, also includes countries outside of Australia.
“Operation Arkstone investigators identified links through the online forums to alleged child sex offenders residing in Europe, Asia, United States and Canada, and New Zealand, with 146 international referrals made as a result of this investigation,” the AFP said, adding that this has resulted in at least three arrests in the US.
AFP Acting Commander Child Protection Operations Christopher Woods said the scale of offending was unprecedented in an AFP-led operation.
“The dedicated investigators and forensic specialists from the AFP, NSW Police and HSI have spent most of 2020 working tirelessly after each arrest to piece together information that identified more victims and the people allegedly abusing and exploiting them,” he said in the statement.
“Victims were often identified through seemingly minor details in photos and videos – analysis that is time-consuming and painstaking, but vital to supporting the rescue of these children and the identification and prosecution of their abusers.”
Investigators continue to examine evidence and have not ruled out further arrests. EFE-EPA