Norway, November 2016
Even the most jaded investigators, and not least the families and colleagues of men who’ve been arrested, have reacted with shock and disbelief after police in Bergen exposed massive pedophile networks that promoted and facilitated sexual assaults against children. More than 50 Norwegian men “from all levels of society” have been charged, with two convicted so far.
They include at least one lawyer, engineers, a police officer and his son, two politicians, a pre-school teacher and students, among others. Several of those arrested in recent months are highly educated with high levels of competence within information technology. They wrongly thought, however, that they were operating anonymously in the darkest areas of the Internet.
After more than a year of intense investigation, with a team of 25 experts working full-time since January, police cracked what they describe as not just one pedophile network in Norway but several. They called it “Operation Dark Room,” based on a large operation carried out in the US by the FBI against the website known as “Playpen.”
Gunnar Fløystad, leader of a police prosecution team in Bergen, called it Norway’s largest case ever involving sexual assault on children. He stressed the investigation is far from over.
All the defendants charged so far are men, with 20 of them living in the state police’s Bergen-based western district arrested and 16 held in custody. Another 31 men have been identified in other police districts nationwide. “In at least one of these cases, the defendant has admitted assaulting his own children,” Police Lt Hilde Reikerås said at a press conference in Bergen late Sunday afternoon.
Another man charged in the case was living with a woman who was pregnant. Police said they have reason to believe the network in which he was involved planned assaults on a child who hadn’t been born.
Record seizures, kidnapping plans
Police have seized record amounts of computer files in the form of photos, videos and online conversations. “The material shows assaults on children of all ages, also babies,” Reikerås said. In some cases, children were bound and raped, children were photographed having sex with animals and with other children.
On Monday came more details from the police, including examples of how two men, aged 20 and 26, planned to randomly kidnap a child aged around 10 who would be raped repeatedly. The men preferred a girl, but one wrote that he “wouldn’t say ‘no’ to a boy either.” Another chatting on the network said he was most interested in a child aged six to eight, but concluded that if it was possible to carry out the kidnapping, “she should be around 10 to 12” years old. One of the men planning the kidnapping noted that he was involved in a relationship with a woman, “so I don’t have the opportunity to dedicate myself to this 100 percent … it would have to be on the evenings I’m alone.”
They planned to drag a child at random into a car, drive to a deserted area and carry out the rapes. In order to make sure the child wouldn’t tell anyone about the assault afterwards, they discussed whether they should drug her or threaten her into silence. “What do you think about filming” the assaults, asked one of the men. “I really want to,” responded the other. “Me too,” replied his partner in crime, “but that’s a bit scary.” Then they discussed what to do with the child when the rapes were over: “Dump her where we found her? And then burn everything that was in the car?”
Thousands involved, more arrests pending
The men, like the others communicating on the various networks exposed, are among an estimated 5,000 with user accounts on various encrypted chatting channels. Several of the men arrested so far have admitted their participation when confronted with the seized material.
“We have been shocked and surprised over how many people have been involved with these networks,” said Janne Heltne of the Vest Police District. She said nearly all the victims are believed to be children in Norway, apart from one case that involved streaming of assaults on children in the Philippines.
The case is so massive that police have had to “make tough decisions” on who to charge and prosecute first, based on the most serious assaults and those who have children themselves or work with children who could be in danger. Several fathers who’ve been charged have already lost custody of their children. On Monday, a police officer in Bergen faced a custody hearing for his alleged involvement in the networks. His son was reportedly already in custody.