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WASHINGTON (AP) – Government investigators who uncover child exploitation initiated more than 4,000 cases around the world in the 2019 budget year, resulting in thousands of arrests and the identification of more than 1,000 victims, according to data obtained by The Associated Press.
The caseloads are growing because of the ease with which offenders can post graphic images of children online.
“With the dark web on there, the content is becoming more prevalent and more horrific,” said Matt Wright, the chief for the Child Exploitation Investigations Unit at Homeland Security Investigations.
HSI is a division of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement tasked with investigations, not immigration enforcement. Agents work on investigations involving money, drug smuggling or child sex trafficking.
The numbers from October 1, 2018, to this past September 30 are higher overall than for the previous few years, according to the data, even as HSI’s parent, the Department of Homeland Security, remains focused on immigration enforcement.
Agents and investigators initiated 4,224 child exploitation cases that resulted in 3,771 arrests and identification of 1,066 victims.
The previous two budget years each saw about 4,000 investigations but lower arrests and fewer victims identified, according to the data.
On November 14, officials unveiled a new center based at ICE’s Washington headquarters and tasked with alerting other countries when U.S. sex offenders are traveling there. The center will include representatives from the U.S. Marshals office and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
ICE’s acting director, Matt Albence, said Thursday that in one instance, a notification was sent to the United Kingdom that a registered sex offender from Washington was headed there. When that individual was inspected at the border, he was discovered with child abuse imagery, and he had been traveling to the UK to take part in a youth cheerleading camp as an instructor.
He was deported and his devices were confiscated, Mr. Albence said. The search turned up more than 7,000 instances of child abuse images and videos. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to nine years in prison in May 2019.
Cheaper online storage and easier encryption tools are making for a vast increase in the number of exploitive images posted and traded online, HSI investigators said.