New York (CNN) -- Twenty-six people have been arrested for possession and trading of images of child sexual assault using the Internet, the Manhattan district attorney announced Tuesday.
The arrests came after a five-month investigation that utilized special technology, District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said.
"These defendants stockpiled images of the brutal rapes and sexual assaults of tens of thousands of real children," Vance said. "These victims were forced into physically and psychologically damaging sexual assaults that were recorded and disseminated online, feeding the appetites of pedophiles for more victims."
Of the 26 defendants, 17 have been indicted in New York State Supreme Court and eight have been arraigned in Criminal Court in Manhattan, he said. Arrests began several months ago and all cases are all eligible for the sex offender registry.
The defendants range from age 18 to 63, and include a Harvard educated lawyer, according to Vance. Court papers show several of the defendants who viewed graphic images came in direct contact with children by nature of their professions, including a substitute teacher and piano tutor, an employee of a children's themed restaurant and an employee of a children's shoe store.
"The defendants in these cases traded images of child sexual assault the way that others trade baseball cards," Vance said. "They were curators of their collections who carefully labeled, sorted and shared their cache with others. At least one of these defendants showed these graphic images of violent sexual assaults to other children in order to desensitize them. In some cases, the defendants expressed a desire to begin sexually assaulting children."
According to the district attorney's office, the defendants used peer-to-peer technology to download and share the images. The victims are said to be both male and female, ranging in age from a 1 year old to teenagers.
"These images are not pornography," said Vance, describing tens of thousands of images showing what he called "children brutally raped and sexually assaulted and exploited by adults on camera."
"We cannot, obviously, show you these images and if I could, let me assure you, you would be shocked and disgusted," he added.
The ongoing investigation is being led by the Cybercrime and Identity Theft Bureau and is being conducted in partnership with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The National Center for missing and exploited children is working on identifying the victims.