Fourteen people have been arrested in France as part of a nationwide sweep to combat the sexual exploitation of children online.
The arrests were made by the French Gendarmerie (Gendarmerie nationale) with the support of Europol as part of an operation that was code-named Horus. All suspects were taken into custody between November 16 and November 20, 2020.
In a statement released yesterday, Europol said: “The alleged suspects used social media networks to approach minors aged between 12 and 13 and lured them into sharing intimate images and videos.”
It is not believed that there were any links between the 14 arrested suspects, three of whom have already been convicted and sentenced.
Operation Horus, which is still ongoing, has so far contributed to the identification of eight potential victims who are minors and resulted in the seizure of 1,058 illicit images.
Over 50 cyber-investigators were brought in to work on the operation to track the online activities of a large volume of users. The investigators’ efforts were coordinated by the French Gendarmerie’s cybercrime center, C3N.
Support provided by Europol included operational analysis and real-time database cross-checks to enable the identification of potential suspects and victims.
Europol said that the investigation was made more complex by the suspected users’ often swapping their online pseudonyms.
Statistics published by Europol in June showed that the exchanging of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) had increased sharply during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“With both children and sexual offenders confined at home, law enforcement authorities have seen in the past few months the amount of child sexual exploitation material shared online increasing globally,” said Europol.
“Sex offenders have increased their criminal activities in social media, via peer-to-peer networks and on the darkweb. Attempts to access websites featuring child sexual abuse material, calls to helplines and activities in dark net and surface web chats sharing child abuse material have all increased during the confinement period.”
Europol reported that the amount of webcam footage depicting CSAM had increased considerably in forums accessed by offenders.
“This includes videos depicting forced or coerced children, videos produced by children for peers or for social media attention or others which were captured without their knowledge.”