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Child sex abuse back in focus

From CNN Correspondent Diana Muriel

Operation Odysseus focused on Internet boards used to swap porn.
Operation Odysseus focused on Internet boards used to swap porn.

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(CNN) -- The "trial of the century" of four people in Belgium on child kidnapping, abuse and murder charges has once again focused attention on child sex abuse and worldwide child pornography rings.

Last week police raids in 10 countries smashed a series of Internet child porn networks.

Thursday's operation, codenamed "Operation Odysseus" and run by the European police organization Europol, was hailed as one of the biggest and most successful operations of its type.

The main focus of the operation was in the German state of Hesse, although the homes and offices of more than 60 people were also searched in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Netherlands, Norway, Peru, Spain, Sweden and the UK.

The simultaneous police raids focused on people using Internet boards to exchange child porn.

In an earlier worldwide operation, called "Twins," a group known as the Shadows Brotherhood was targeted and over 100 arrests were made.

Police haven't given details of how many people were arrested, or how many networks were broken as a result of Odysseus. But they have confirmed several suspects are being investigated.

Also seized were computers, videos and other material containing images of child sex abuse -- much of which was sickening.

"We are talking about many cases in which the victim is a baby or a very young child -- four or five years old," said Mariano Simancas of Europol's serious crime department.

"But we have seen babies also involved in this -- two-month, three-month old babies. The psychological damage created in those children is forever."

Childcare International, which works to make the Internet a safer place for children, says the number of children subjected to this kind of abuse appears to be growing.

According to recent research, there's been a 300 percent increase in the number of images of new child victims appearing on the Net in just three years.

With online child porn on the increase, Childcare International's Will Gardner says more attention needs to be paid to the victims of child sex abuse.

"There is a very clear need for a victim focus in such investigations -- who are the children? Who are the real victims of this crime? Who are the children who are being abused in these images?" he says.

"Ironically that involves reconciling the complex nature of the investigation at the international level that an Internet investigation brings with the very local level crime of child sexual abuse which takes place in the home."

One of the main reasons for the rise in child porn, police say, is the ease with which Internet pedophiles can hide their identity.

"By getting anonymity, and you know that there a lot of technical tools for that now in the Internet, by you are getting more and more probability of impunity -- not to be found, not to be punished," Simancas explains.

To fight the problem more effectively, experts say there needs to be more resources and a greater coordination of information by international police forces.

Also needed were ways to make the Internet safer for children, experts say.

Additionally there are further fears that new third generation 3G mobile phones, that handle video streaming, will lead to more offences due to even increased anonymity.


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