Georgia police have made 82 arrests and rescued 17 children from a multi-state child exploitation and child pornography ring, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.
Dubbed “Operation Southern Impact III,” the months-long operation was intended to find and capture individuals who possessed or distributed child pornography, as well as individuals who exploited, or attempted to exploit, children and teenagers.
With help from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, in coordination with online undercover investigations conducted by local law enforcement agencies, policed served hundreds of warrants, executed an untold number of undercover stings, and seized over a thousand computers and electronic devices. Additionally, police and probation officers conducted “compliance checks” of registered sex offenders; that is, checking in on sex offenders to make sure they were doing the things they are required to do, and not doing the things they are forbidden from doing. It’s not known how many of the arrested individuals were non-compliant sex offenders.
The operation wasn’t just limited to Georgia: police in Alabama, Florida, North and South Carolina, and other southeastern states also helped in the sting. Individuals arrested came from all over the southeastern United States.
In Georgia alone, seven individuals were arrested for allegedly traveling to meet with undercover officers pretending to be children.
According to a statement from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI), catching predators who travel to meet children for sex was a key part of the operation.
“A goal of the operation was to arrest persons who communicate with children online and then travel to meet them for the purpose of having sex.”
Further, GBI Special Agent Debbie Garner said via Savannah’s WTOC-TV that agents were eager to catch people who possess, distribute, and produce child pornography. Specifically, authorities targeted individuals connected to child pornography featuring sexual violence against babies and toddlers.
“The severity of the child porn that we’re seeing is increasing. Child sex trafficking is increasing. The online enticement of children is increasing. It’s very, very easy to do in the digital age.”
Among the 82 arrested were people aged 20 to 70. Some of the accused are people who hold, or held, positions of trust with children, including a church youth group leader, a firefighter, and a day care administrator.
In addition to 82 arrests, 17 children and teenagers were “rescued,” although the specifics of what is meant by that word as it’s used in this context is unclear. Also unclear is what will happen to those children and teens.