It's a crime that victimizes children and it happens thousands of times a day with the click of a button. We first told you about this story last week when police raided a house in Monument. Now police are up to 17 arrests.
Investigators say they're all men who now face felony charges of sexually exploiting children. "People have a tendency to think it's just a video, it's just a picture," says Sgt. Bill Dehart with the Internet Crimes Against Children Unit at the Colorado Springs Police Department, "the reality is that's a child being abused."
In a week's time, police executed several search warrants at homes across southern Colorado. "We're actually doing onsite forensic examinations, recovering databases," says Dehart of what officers are collecting. It's all part of an extensive investigation called Operation Peerless Summer, referencing the peer-to-peer online networks where people are trading child porn.
"If you're sharing those images, those videos on their computer, anyone can find them," says Dehart. Investigators say the ultimate goal is to put a stop to the production of child porn. They've found no evidence yet of children being abused locally.
"We're talking about protecting children," Dehart says. Investigators say they expect additional arrests and say people who commit Internet child porn crimes could be anywhere. Investigators say telling people the crime is happening is part of the battle to stop it.
"The word is getting out," says Dehart, "we're talking about people actively trading child pornography and it's not something people should do." But people are doing and after so many arrests, officers say the crime crosses geographical and socioeconomic boundaries.
"There is no profile where this person is the one, we need to look at," Dehart says. Investigators say they know where to look and how to find out who's trading child pornography online. They say you should be just as aware of what's arriving on your computer.
"You suspect somebody has these images on a computer, it's the old adage, you'll know it when you see it," says Dehart. Investigators say many of the offenders have several hundred images on their hard drives. "You're looking at the memorialization of abuse and it's illegal to possess," says Dehart of online child porn.
Investigators say it's important to talk with your kids about what's appropriate and what's not online to make sure your children don't become victims.