7 January 2013

123 SEXUALLY EXPLOITED CHILDREN IDENTIFIED BY HSI DURING ‘OPERATION SUNFLOWER’

One hundred twenty-three victims of child sexual exploitation were identified by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents during an international operation aimed at rescuing victims and targeting individuals who own, trade and produce images of child pornography. Of that number, 44 children were directly rescued from their abusers and 79 were identified as either being exploited by others outside of their home or are now adults who were victimized as children.

HSI launched Operation Sunflower in November 2012 to commemorate the one-year anniversary in which the identification of a sunflower-shaped highway road sign led to the rescue of an 11-year-old girl in Kansas. Operation Sunflower was executed through the first week of December 2012, but victim identification and rescue efforts continue under HSI’s Operation Predator.

“The sexual abuse of young children, often at the hands of people they trust, is a particular wrong,” said ICE Director John Morton. “Whenever our investigations reveal the production and distribution of new child pornography online, we will do everything we can to rescue the victim and prosecute the abuser even if takes us years or around the world to do it. A relentless fight against child exploitation is the only answer.”

HSI and partner law enforcement agencies arrested 245 individuals during the operation, which took place Nov. 1 to Dec. 7. Of the 123 victims, 110 were identified in 19 U.S. states.

Of the 123 victims identified during Operation Sunflower: five were under the age of 3, nine were ages 4 to 6; 21 were ages 7 to 9; 11 were ages 10 to 12; 38 were ages 13 to 15; and 15 were ages 16 to 17. Twenty-four of the victims identified are now adults who were victimized as children. Seventy were female and 53 were male.

In 2012, HSI special agents, working closely with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), partially identified multiple individuals across the country who were sexually abusing young children and taking photos or videos of the acts. Special agents worked with the Department of Justice and its Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section to issue national Jane and John Doe warrants to arrest these perpetrators and rescue their victims. The most recent case was solved two weeks ago in Florida.

“We applaud our partners at ICE for their worldwide work in identifying these victims of child sexual exploitation and for helping to remove these children from extremely dangerous situations,” said NCMEC CEO John Ryan. “We know that there’s more work to be done. Anyone could know these victims, not knowing that they’re being harmed. They could be your neighbors’ children, your child’s classmate, or even your own child. We thank Director Morton and everyone at ICE for their strong commitment to rescuing the most vulnerable of victims.”

Operation Sunflower was conducted as part of Operation Predator, a nationwide HSI initiative to protect children from sexual predators, including those who travel overseas for sex with minors, Internet child pornographers, criminal alien sex offenders and child sex traffickers. HSI encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free hotline at 866-347-2423 or by completing its online tip form. Both are staffed around the clock by investigators.

Suspected child sexual exploitation or missing children may be reported to NCMEC, an Operation Predator partner, via its toll-free 24-hour hotline, 1-800-THE-LOST.

Read more about Operation Sunflower at www.ice.gov

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ICE Operation Sunflower

Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations identified and rescued children from their abusers under an initiative named Operation Sunflower.

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