As a result of a five-day undercover operation centering around the Super Bowl in Atlanta, 21 suspects were arrested on child exploitation charges, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
“Operation Interception” was centered in Brookhaven, DeKalb County, GA. The operation took several months of planning. Most of the arrestees, ranging in age from 20 to 55, traveled from areas around metro Atlanta with the intent to meet a child for sex. Multiple people were arrested who were in possession of suspected illegal drugs. Twenty-four digital devices were seized as evidence and processed during the operation.
According to the GBI, the goal of “Operation Interception” was to arrest people who communicate with children online, have sexually explicit conversations, and then travel to meet them for the purpose of having sex.
Additionally, the operation targeted those who are willing to exploit children by purchasing sex with a minor.
Online child predators visit chat rooms and websites on the internet, find children, begin conversations with them, introduce sexual content and ultimately arrange a meeting with the children for the purpose of having sex. The children these predators target are both boys and girls. Since 2014, the Georgia Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force has arrested more than 130 people in similar operations.
The proactive online investigation was a coordinated effort among the participating law enforcement agencies to combat this activity.
GBI Special Agent in Charge, and Commander of the Georgia ICAC Task Force, Debbie Garner, said, “The Brookhaven Police Department is one of our most active member agencies. We appreciate their daily efforts to combat child exploitation. This type of cooperation and collaboration is invaluable in the effort to keep our children safe from predators who seek to harm them. This successful operation was a true partnership between all the agencies involved. We will continue to aggressively work together to protect our children.”
During “Operation Interception,” the Georgia ICAC Task Force conducted proactive online undercover investigations utilizing sites that are known to be used to advertise for the sex industry. The investigators made one arrest as a result of investigations conducted on these sites. The arrest involved a monetary component and the person arrested was charged with human trafficking violations for arranging to purchase sex with a minor. This was a marked decrease compared to similar operations in the past.
Prior to Super Bowl LIII, there were heavy media campaigns that were focused on deterring those who want to purchase sex with a minor. Additionally, there was a massive effort by law enforcement, non-profit organizations, and victims’ services organizations to educate the public and various industries about the indicators of human trafficking. This could be one reason for the decrease in demand activity related to these specific sites during “Operation Interception.”
Investigators also conducted proactive undercover investigations using applications frequented by adults to find casual sexual partners. The investigators made 20 arrests as a result of using standard dating and social media applications.
Those arrested had sexually explicit conversations with whom they believed to be a child and most of those arrested traveled to meet a child for sex. While there was a monetary component to several of these cases, most often there was no monetary component involved.
Although some websites promote themselves as being for “adults-only,” it is not uncommon for law enforcement to work cases in which children access these sites, establish profiles claiming to be older, and then find themselves vulnerable to victimization, harassment, blackmail, or assault.
Several subjects were identified as communicating simultaneously with multiple investigators posing as minors. Such activity confirms what investigators uncover conducting these types of investigations: that many predators specifically seek out minors on such websites to groom them as potential victims for sexual contact. This is an everyday threat to children and the Georgia ICAC Task Force continues to work these types of investigations every day across the State of Georgia.
Over the course of the operation, over 63 cases were established that met the threshold for arrest. Twenty-one of those cases were concluded with arrests. During the multi-day operation, investigators had close to 200 exchanges with subjects on various social media or internet platforms. Many of those were exchanges in which the subject initiated contact and even after discovering they were conversing with a minor, directed the conversation towards sex.
In some of those cases, the subject introduced obscene or lude content, often exposing the minor (a law enforcement officer) to pornography or requesting the child take nude or pornographic images for them.
Along with those agencies that participated in the planning and coordinating of the operation, 22 additional law enforcement agencies participated in “Operation Interception” as members of the Georgia ICAC Task Force.
The cases will be prosecuted by the Office of the DeKalb County District Attorney. “We applaud this task force for its vigilance and proactive efforts to protect our children,” said DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston. “Those who prey upon our most vulnerable population, must be held accountable for their actions. We will work quickly to file formal charges with the ultimate goal of prosecuting the accused individuals in the interest of justice for these egregious crimes.”