Nov. 11 (UPI) — Authorities in Australia announced Wednesday that police investigating an international child sex abuse network have arrested 14 men on hundreds of charges and rescued 46 children.
Australian Federal Police said in a release that Operation Arkstone has resulted in the arrests of eight men in New South Wales, three in Queensland and three in Western Australia on a total of 828 charges in connection to the production and sharing of child abuse material online.
Bestiality charges were also filed against the men in relation to the abuse of four animals, police said.
Police also identified several sex offenders in Europe, Asia, the United States, Canada and New Zealand through links on online forums, resulting in the arrest of three men in the United States.
The child victims ranged in age from 16 months to 15 years with the average age being eight, authorities said, adding that 16 of them had attended the same childcare center.
The victims were often identified through painstaking work to piece together information found in photos of people abusing and exploiting them, AFP Acting Commander Child Protection Operations Christopher Woods said in a statement.
“These men allegedly produced child abuse material for the depraved pleasure of their peers with absolutely no thought to the lasting effects their actions would have on these children,” Woods said. “Police will allege Operation Arkston revealed a network of abuse, where the alleged offenders in the forums encouraged and emboldened each other to engage in acts of depravity and abuse of children.”
A 27-year-old former childcare worker in New South Wales has been charged with 303 offenses, including sexual intercourse with a child under 10 years old.
Police said the man used his position to gain access to 30 children and his parter, a 22-year-old man, has also been charged with child abuse.
The parents of the victims have been notified of the investigation, authorities said.
“No child should be subjected to abuse and violence from people who hold high positions of trust in their lives, whether it be a family member, childcare worker or soccer coach,” Woods said.
The suspects arrested range in age from 20 to 48 years old and held positions such as a volunteer soccer coach, a disability support worker and an electrician, supermarket employee and chef.
“What this highlights is that offenders are across age groups, occupations and are in positions of trust,” Woods said. “Parents need to be vigilant about who has access to their children.”
Operation Arkstone, which the AFP called of one its “most significant child protection investigations” to date, was initiated in February after authorities received a tip from the U.S. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children about a Wyoming man who uploaded material of abuse online that led to his arrest and 89 charges of child abuse.
Police searching the man’s electronic evidence discovered online social media forums where members produced, accessed and circulated such material.
In June, police arrested nine men and rescued 14 child victims under the operation.
The AFP said it will continue to work to dismantle this child sex ring and prevent further children from being harmed.
Last month, Australian police also arrested 44 men on child abuse charges and placed at least 16 child victims into safety.