The inquiry resulted in the rescue of 146 children around the world, including six in New Zealand and 79 in Britain. In Australia, 51 children across six states were moved to safety, including 23 in Queensland and 10 in South Australia.
In one case each in Austria and Hungary, the suspects were accused of abusing their own children, who were 6 and 8 years old. And in Spain, a suspect both possessed and disseminated material about child sexual exploitation while making covert sexual images of adults without their consent, officials said.
In some cases, those arrested on charges of possessing the material were later charged with more serious offenses. One unidentified offender in the South Island of New Zealand later admitted to “consuming child exploitation material for over 20 years as well as other forms of harmful material such as bestiality and torture bondage,” according to the New Zealand authorities.
The offender had traveled to Asia and paid families there to create images of their children being sexually abused for financial gain, the investigation found.
“Although the offender denied engaging in sexual exploitation while abroad, it is likely from the information obtained that they were a sex tourist,” a spokesman at the Department of Internal Affairs in New Zealand said.
In Britain, officers from the National Crime Agency arrested 450 people on charges of using the platform, and those detentions often brought additional charges.
“Much of this activity took place during the Covid-19 lockdowns, when the majority of young people were at home and offenders had more time to spend online targeting their victims,” said Sarah Blight, a spokeswoman for the agency.
The agency found a pattern of offenders working in “positions of trust,” including at kindergartens and primary schools, in health care professions, as religious clergy or within law enforcement. One suspect, who worked as a night support worker in a children’s home, had hundreds of indecent images of children on his phone, officials said.