Provincial police say statistics from a single month's worth of child exploitation investigations show the issue remains a major problem in Ontario and beyond.
As part of a bid to raise awareness of child exploitation, the OPP released figures from the month of November.
During that 30-day stretch, the OPP and its 26 regional partners across Ontario laid 551 charges against 122 people while identifying 55 alleged child victims and referring them for help.
Investigators said those arrested include past and present teachers, emergency services personnel, military members, and others active in local communities.
They noted officers identified 834 unique IP addresses accessing child pornography during November alone, describing that figure as “the tip of the iceberg.”
Investigators say anyone who accesses child pornography online is complicit in the abuse and constant revictimization of children—some of whom were as young as three years old.
“Some of these victims are so young, they cannot report the crimes because they have not uttered their first word,” OPP Insp. Tina Chalk said at a news conference.
“If you watch, distribute, or access child pornography, you may as well be holding the hand of the offender who is committing the abuse.”
Investigators said the offences covered by the charges laid in November were numerous, citing sexual assault, sexual interference, voyeurism, and luring as just a few examples.
OPP S/Sgt. Sharon Hanlon, co-ordinator of the Provincial Strategy to Protect Children from Sexual Abuse and Exploitation on the Internet, said the people arrested in November were similarly diverse.
She said they came from all walks of life in communities across the province.
The 122 people facing charges include 12 with previous convictions for offences related to child sexual abuse materials, 11 youths under the age of 18, and one female, she noted.
“I think it's clear that this crime crosses all demographics of wealth, employment, social status, and age,” Hanlon said.
“These people are our neighbours, relatives, and friends,” she added.
“These are people we invite into our worlds because we trust them.”
The OPP said it's been taking part in a co-ordinated provincial strategy since 2006 that consistently has seen high levels of child exploitation activity, though Hanlon noted investigators have observed a trend toward younger victims and more violent offences in recent years.
Since its inception, police said the provincial strategy has resulted in nearly 21,000 charges against 5,686 people and rescued 2,009 children.