An international task force has shut down a large-scale dark web child sexual abuse platform, along with several similarly aligned dark web chat sites. According to an announcement from Germany’s Central Office for Combating Internet Crime (ZIT), “Boystown” had 400,000 registered users and was “one of Europe’s most prolific child sexual abuse platforms on the dark web.” Four suspects, all German nationals, have been identified in connection with the site.
The task force, led by the German Federal Criminal Police (Bundeskriminalamt), included Europol, as well as law enforcement agencies from Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United States (the FBI and ICE).
Investigators report that the site ran since at least June 2019. It was “internationally oriented,” with channels in different languages, and mainly used to exchange images and videos of abuse of boys.
Two suspected founders and admins have reportedly been arrested in Germany in mid-April, and the New York Times reports that a third is awaiting extradition in Paraguay. Police also arrested a 64-year-old man who is believed to be one of the site’s most active members, with over 3,500 posts. The New York Times points out the Germany has recently doubled its maximum sentence for spreading child sexual abuse material (CSAM) to 10 years, while the maximum sentence for abusing a child is 15.
In an announcement, Europol grimly reflected that the site showed how quickly offenders are able to scatter and regroup to evade law enforcement. “The case illustrates what Europol is seeing in child sexual abuse offending: online child offender communities on the dark web exhibit considerable resilience in response to law enforcement actions targeting them,” the write. “Their reactions include resurrecting old communities, establishing new communities, and making strong efforts to organise and administer them.”
In 2017, Europol, working with German law enforcement agents, shut down a CSAM site with 87,000 users. Last year, Dutch, U.S., and German officials along with Europol shut down a site that had been live since 2012 and hosted 2,000 images and videos of child sexual abuse. In March 2021, Europol announced that it worked with Belgian authorities to hunt down 90 suspects associated with nine million images found in a house raid.
Europol plans to use data to identify victims, and the press release promises that “more arrests and rescues are to be expected globally.”