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‘Operation Southern Impact III’ Busts 82 Involved with Child Exploitation

Georgia investigators announced Friday that 82 arrests and 17 child rescues or victim identifications were made in a 171-agency sting operation spanning eight states.

Referred to as “Operation Southern Impact III,” the sting lasted just three days and resulted in arrests across Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia, with 31 taking place in Georgia alone.

The operation was carried out by ten separate “Internet Crimes Against Children Task Forces” and “focused on persons who possess and distribute child pornography and those who are sexually exploiting children in other ways using technology and the internet,” according to GBI’s news release on Friday.

Officials also indicated that this sting was different, with the focus set on individuals “seeking out and distributing the most violent sexual abuse material involving infants and toddlers.”

Alongside the 82 arrests, GBI ICAC says that 134 search warrants were executed and 1,613 digital devices — 203 being mobile phones — were seized.

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“It is as horrific as you can imagine,” ICAC Task Force Commander Debbie Garner told WSB-TV Atlanta.

“We come across every profession, and there’s no socioeconomic class that we arrest more than others,” Garner added.

Garners suggests that a key difficulty in such operations stems from the wide array of characteristics displayed by the offenders the task force seeks to catch.

Ranging in age from 20 to 70, those arrested varied dramatically in terms of race, ethnicity and employment.

However, among those arrested were various individuals employed in child care and youth education — including a daycare administrator, youth group leader, former high school band director and a non-profit employee.

Four of those apprehended were also already registered sex offenders in the state of Georgia for previous child pornography-related convictions.

One of those offenders was even found to have been “initially arrested by the GBI during a very similar operation in 2015.”

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“We feel as though children will be safer,” Garner said. “It’s very gratifying.”

According to Garner, the success of such operations is crucial to decreasing victimization of minors.

In fact, the officer says that in the Information Age, the greatest indicator of likelihood to sexually harm a minor is whether an individual is accumulating or distributing pornographic material involving children.

“There is a actually a statistical correlation between those people who are collecting and viewing child pornography and those that are committing hands-on child molestation offenses,” Garner said.

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