We sometimes forget that not all news comes from America. That’s certainly true when you look at sex trafficking and patterns of networked sexual abuse worldwide. One such network was uncovered only last year — and it’s focal point was a strange spot in Cologne, Germany. Local authorities were on the premises to conduct a routine search when they found something sinister on site: child pornography.
It was from that discovery that an investigation of tens of thousands of persons of interest began using hundreds of detectives. Two men were recently sentenced to more than a decade in prison for sexual abuse of minors and the distribution of child pornography. But they won’t be the last incarcerated in what just might become one of the biggest trials of the century.
The videos uncovered depicted scenes not only of sexual abuse, but extreme acts of violence perpetrated against these children. The abuse of several victims began when they were only mere months in age.
One officer said, “I think images and videos like these are always going to leave their mark on those who watch them — even experienced investigators.” Lisa Wagner is a mother herself, and became a police officer to help watch over everyone else’s children, too. But sometimes evil hides in plain sight, as was the case in Cologne. Neighbors described the arrestees as normal.
Dozens of children involved in the predator network have been located and placed into new homes with new guardians. 87 cases in particular stand out to authorities. Cologne State Prosecutor Markus Hartmann said, “This is not about individual cases: behind each instance of abuse lies a web of communication structures that, according to our current evaluation, aids, abets and encourages abuse.”
The real trick is finding a way not only to arrest those responsible, but also to keep them behind bars — and then mitigate future damages against children. How can law enforcement possibly target conduct that largely occurs online when Internet privacy laws and VPN software helps mask the trafficking? There are no easy answers, and legislators have been struggling with this question for decades.
Earlier this year in July, the European Commission devised a strategy to protect children, one in five of whom will be the subject of child abuse.
In Germany, some of those incarcerated individuals might be placed in “preventative detention” once they serve their time. In other words, they will never really be released.
Borders are another obstacle to catching child predators, but thankfully the internationally community is mostly cooperative and resolute in the face of this challenge. Hartmann said, “We have had cases in Europe in which we were able to coordinate operations with our respective international partners in hours.”
And that means in the future, child predators might be caught easier and faster — which means fewer victims overall. Still, the trauma these victims will endure lasts a lifetime. It does not end with the abuse, or when the abuser is finally caught and incarcerated. So the struggle continues.