The VIRTUS ® Programs
From November 1 to December 7, 2012, Homeland Security Investigations, a division of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, conducted “Operation Sunflower,” the goal of which was “to rescue victims and target people owning, trading and producing images of child pornography.”
The operation resulted in the rescue of 123 victims and the arrest of 245 suspects. Of 110 victims, 19 live in states within the U.S. “The victim age breakdown: 14 range from infant to 6 years old; 32 are ages 7 to 12; 38 are ages 13 to 15; 15 are ages 16 to 17 and 24 are adults who were victimized as children … . Of the victims, 44 children were directly rescued from their abusers and 79 were exploited by people outside of their home.”
Special Agent-in-Charge Dave Marwell stated, “This is a problem throughout our nation and internationally. It affects everybody. The people involved in this are men and women, rich and poor and from all walks of life. Some of the individuals are caretakers of the children and some are not. We have a wide berth. It’s a big problem and a big issue.”
The investigation began when Danish law enforcement contacted the U.S. Immigration Security Investigations division in November 2011 after discovering a 16-year-old boy’s Internet posting describing his plans to rape an 11-year-old girl.
The posting included a photograph of the girl that showed a yellow sign with a sunflower graphic exclusive to Kansas road signs. With the sunflower clue, agents searched Kansas highways for 13 days in search of the girl, until finally finding her in a small Kansas town.
According to the Homeland Security Investigations, Operation Sunflower was conducted as part of Operation Predator.
Operation Predator is the Division’s “initiative to protect children from sexual predators, including those traveling overseas for sex with minors, Internet child pornographers, criminal immigrant sex offenders and child sex traffickers.”
The Division has initiated over 24,000 cases and arrested 8,720 people for child sex crimes since 2003. Ginnie Graham “Feds identify 13 Tulsa-area teen boys, victims of sex exploitation,” www.tulsaworld.com (Jan. 4, 2013).
Sexual exploitation is a global problem. Child pornography is one type of child sexual exploitation, which includes a range of illegal and abusive activities that control and use children for sexual purposes.
In the U.S. alone, in fiscal year 2012, Homeland Security reported 292 victims were identified in its child pornography investigations. Homeland Security went on to state that, “a record 1,655 suspects were arrested last year from the division’s investigations, up from 1,335 in 2011 and 912 in 2010.”
According to agency statistics, the figures do not include “hundreds of victims who were found by foreign law enforcement agencies as a result of the U.S. cases and leads.”
What can you do to help law enforcement stop or prevent sexual exploitation?
- Report a sighting of a missing child to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children: toll-free Hotline at 1-800-THE LOST (1-800-843-5678). Operators are available 24/7.
- If your computer is equipped with a microphone and speakers, you can also go to the website of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and click on the “Push to Talk” button, and a call center specialist will take your call.
- You can also make use of the website’s “CyberTipline” to report a sighting of a missing child.
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children