82 arrested in multi-state child exploitation operation, ‘Southern Impact III’

Published: May. 3, 2019 at 11:39 PM EDT

DECATUR, GA (WTOC) - The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has made 82 arrests in a multi-state child exploitation operation called, “Operation Southern Impact III.”

Officials say 17 children were rescued or identified as victims during a mutually-coordinated operation between eight southeastern states. The investigation focused on people who possess and distribute child pornography as well as those who are sexually exploiting children in other ways using technology and the internet.

The investigation began four months ago and resulted in search warrants in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Those arrested range in age from 20-70. Some of their occupations include non-profit employee, small business owner, store clerk, mechanic, daycare administrator, youth group leader, former high school band director, freelance photographer, construction worker, and painter. Officials say 134 search warrants were executed and 215 “knock and talks” were conducted. They say 861 digital services were previewed and 1,613 digital devices were seized. 203 of those were cell phones.

In Georgia alone, 31 people were arrested during Operation Southern Impact III. Most of the arrests involved the possession and/or distribution of child pornography. While investigators regularly target the trading of all types of child pornography, in this investigation, investigators targeted those seeking out and distributing the most violence sexual abuse material involving infants and toddlers.

Seven of those arrested in Georgia traveled for the purpose of meeting and having sex with a minor. A goal of the operation was to arrest people who communicate with children online and then travel to meet them for the purpose of having sex. Officials say online child predators visit chat rooms and websites on the internet, find children, begin conversations with them, introduce sexual content, and arrange a meeting with the children. The children these predators target are both boys and girls.

“The number of tips that we’re receiving is increasing. The severity of the child porn that we’re seeing is increasing. Child sex trafficking is increasing. The online enticement of children is increasing. It’s very, very easy to do in the digital age," said Debbie Garner, GBI, Special Agent. “There’s a statistical correlation between those people who are collecting and viewing child pornography and those who are molesting children, so it’s not uncommon at all for us to find and rescue children that are being molested, and we find them by working a child pornography case."

See the full GBI release below:

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