Police Take Down Major Pedophile Ring: 18 Members Arrested
Operation Timing Belt found 23 sexually abused children, hundreds more targeted by network
Police in Australia have taken down a major pedophile ring, arresting 18 members of the network during raids.
The operation that uncovered the ring was launched by police in Perth after finding 23 youngsters who had suffered sexual abuse at the hands of the predators.
The suspects arrested, aged between 18 and 41, were allegedly using online platforms such as Facebook and Instagram to hunt for minors.
Investigators found the ring has targeted at least 140 teenagers across Perth alone, with some aged as young as 13.
"Operation Timing Belt" was launched in April by detectives from the Sex Offender Management Squad task force.
Police announced the arrests on Saturday, resulting in 79 sexual offense charges being laid.
It is understood at least four of the accused offenders had previous convictions for child sex offenses, according to The Daily Mail.
The operation identified 140 teenagers aged between 13 and 19 who were targeted by the group, and 23 of them were found to be victims of sexual abuse.
WA Police said some of the accused offenders would compare information about their victims and share the targets.
Acting Detective Senior Sergeant Matt Daly said the accused predators allegedly contacted the teenagers through social media to "ultimately engage in sexual contact with them."
"The majority of offenses are non-physical communication via popular social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, and via mobile phones," he explained.
WA Police also confiscated computer equipment in connection with the alleged abuse as part of the series of raids.
"Mobile phones and the ongoing rise of social media platforms provides offenders with new ways to reach out to youths in order to commit crimes and we're working hard to crack down on this behavior," Snr. Sgt. Daly said.
In all, 18 offenders had been charged as part of Operation Timing Belt, with 135 charges laid for non-sexual offenses including drug, trespass, and animal cruelty offenses.
State Crime Assistant Commissioner Brad Royce said Timing Belt showed that parents and children must be vigilant in terms of cyber safety.
"They come in from likes and friends from other people and they get accepted and then they start grooming.
"You wouldn't let a stranger into your home if they randomly knocked on the front door – likewise, you shouldn't allow someone to access your online profile unless you know them," Mr. Royce said.
WA Police are continuing the investigation under Operation Timing Belt.