50 children trafficked in the dark web rescued; 9 offenders arrested in two years
Severe abusive images were likely to feature boys and 65 percent of unidentified victims were girls, says Interpol.
Interpol has rescued 50 children and prosecuted nine sex offenders under their mission Operation Blackwrist that works towards fighting crimes against children in the dark web.
The Dark Web
There are three parts to the World Wide Web, namely, the surface web, deep web, and dark web.
What we search for in our day-to-day lives on search engines such as Google, Wikipedia, or Bing is the bare minimum of what exists online. The second layer contains information that requires access to retrieve data. For instance, subscription information, government resources, medical records, and scientific reports are found in the deep web.
The dark web is the third layer that requires specific system configuration and specialised web browsing software for information that cannot be accessed with regular browsers. This content exists on the Darknet where portions of the internet are not open to the public and are connected through hidden networks. The dark web is known to be a platform for notorious activities such as drug trafficking, fraudulent financing services, and child pornographic sites.
During routine dark web monitoring in 2017, Interpol initiated Operation Blackwrist while its Crimes Against Children unit discovered material that depicted the abuse of 11 boys under 13 years of age. The operation was named after a bracelet worn by one of the offenders who was a member of a subscription-based website with over 60,000 users across the globe.
In June 2017, Thailand’s Department of Special Investigations (DSI) and the United States’ Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) worked with Interpol’s Liaison Bureau in Bangkok. In November 2017, victims were identified. The youngest was just 15 months old. The website’s main administrator, Montri Salangam from Thailand was identified as one of the two abusers of the 11 boys, one of whom was his nephew. “He had lured them to his home with meals, internet access and football games,” tweeted Interpol. The other was Ruecha Tokputza, based in Australia, who possessed thousands of images on his devices.
Police at Salangam's residence. Source: Twitter/Interpol_HQ
This raises a very important question: How safe are children online? An image of a child online may not be remotely provocative. But in the eyes of a sexual predator, any image that they find arousing puts the child at risk. “It could be anything from a candid family photograph, where everyone is fully clothed to graphic videos showing rape,” says a criminal intelligence officer from Interpol's Crimes Against Children unit. Some of these photographs or videos that are publicly available on the internet are modified according to a predator’s needs.
In a two-year span, despite saving 50 victims from further harm, the organisation believes that at least 100 more children have undergone abuse. According to Interpol’s International Child Exploitation (ICSE) database, 15 children undergoing sexual abuse were identified every day in 2018 and at least 19,481 victims have been identified since the beginning of operation Blackwrist.
#OperationBlackwrist: Although police have removed 50 victims from harm, they believe 100 more children have suffered abuse. All of the images & videos seized have been uploaded to the International Child Sexual Exploitation database for further analysis. https://t.co/EMOED4luTY pic.twitter.com/1NHSwruShj— INTERPOL (@INTERPOL_HQ) May 23, 2019
The database holds over 1.5 million images and videos. The video or audio forms of digital records are analysed using image and video comparison software by victim identification experts to retrieve clues and check for overlap in cases. This process helps officials locate victims of child sexual abuse.
The study has found that the severity of the abuse increases with younger victims. 92 percent of offenders were male and over 80 percent of images contained explicit sexual activity.
In June 2018, Salangam was sentenced to 146 years in prison on charges of child rape, human trafficking, possession, and distribution of child sexual abuse material by Thai courts. In May 2019, an Australian judge sentenced Tokputza to 40 years and three months.
With international efforts, such paedophile communities can be tracked efficiently.