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At today's press conference, the successful implementation of Operation Mosaic 2023, a major international criminal investigation into online child sexual abuse, was presented. The operation was carried out from 6 to 17 November 2023 in cooperation with Europol, Hungary, Croatia and several Western Balkan countries, in the framework of the European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats (EMPACT).

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Several Slovenian citizens were involved in sharing and disseminating images and videos depicting child sexual abuse

Criminal investigators from the Criminal Police Directorate at the General Police Directorate and the Criminal Police Divisions at the Ljubljana, Kranj, Koper and Novo mesto Police Directorates received information from foreign law enforcement authorities and from domestic organisations indicating that a number of Slovenian citizens were sharing and disseminating material depicting child sexual abuse online.

Several offences of the presentation, manufacture, possession and distribution of pornographic material depicting sexual abuse of minors have been identified. The images and videos show unclothed minors and minors being sexually abused by adults.

According to the information gathered so far, no Slovenian children are among the victims

According to the currently available information and findings, there are no Slovenian children among the victims, and the investigation has so far not confirmed that the suspects produced the material under investigation or that they sexually abused the children themselves. However, the information gathered so far has revealed that some of the suspects have paid for child sexual abuse material with cryptocurrencies and have also been active on the darknet.

The investigation and identification of the suspected Slovenian citizens who shared such material was carried out in cooperation with foreign law enforcement authorities and corporations that own social networks, in collaboration with Europol and crypto-exchanges.

Eight Slovenian suspects identified

During the investigation, the criminal police obtained information from domestic and foreign corporations that allowed them to identify the suspects. On the basis of all the information obtained, the police identified eight suspects, Slovenian nationals from the areas of police directorates of Ljubljana, Kranj, Koper and Novo mesto. Five of these suspects used cryptocurrencies to commit their crimes and were also active on the darknet.

On Thursday, 9 November 2023, on the basis of court orders, criminal police officers carried out eight searches in the areas of the above mentioned police directorates, and seized 40 electronic devices and other electronic data carriers. The searches were conducted by 41 criminal and police officers.

However, the investigation is not yet over, as the criminal police have to preserve and investigate all the seized devices and data, and will inform the competent public prosecutor's offices of their findings once the investigation has been completed.

The offence carries a prison sentence of 6 months to 8 years.

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Slovenian police play a key role in bringing Western Balkan countries together in the fight against child sexual exploitation

The EMPACT operation, which is aimed at teaming up with the Western Balkan countries in the joint fight against child sexual exploitation and is led by the Slovenian police together with Hungary, Europol and Croatia, also included criminal investigators from Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Together with the police from the countries concerned, we carried out 41 searches of premises of 39 suspects between 6 and 17 November 2023, seizing 200 electronic devices. So far, two children, victims of sexual abuse, have been identified and rescued.

So far, there is no information to suggest that the suspects are linked to each other, but the investigation into possible links will continue. Perpetrators of online child sexual abuse frequently connect with each other, exchange material, share tips on how to sexually abuse children, how to remain anonymous and undetected, and operate across borders. In the Western Balkan region this is made all the easier by fewer language barriers.

The Slovenian police, together with Europol, Hungary and Croatia, have been leading the Western Balkan operational action network for four years. During this period, we have set up an environment for joint work, creating a network of experts, providing training, carrying out joint preventive activities and planning operational activities. The purpose of this type of association is to detect, investigate and prevent child sexual abuse in virtual and physical environments, which is why we have trained together, carried out prevention activities together and exchanged information, and we will continue to do so in the future.

Slovenian criminal investigator took part in an operation to identify children at Europol

From 6 to 17 November 2023, Europol conducted an operation to identify children, which was also attended by a Slovenian criminal investigator. The purpose of the operation is to analyse seized child sexual abuse material in order to identify the children depicted in the material, followed by measures to protect the children and to identify the suspects.
This is the thirteenth such campaign by Europol, which has been extremely effective and successful in terms of victim identification. In the 12 operations carried out so far, criminal investigators from Europe and other countries around the world have analysed 6,463 batches of material and identified 690 children around the world, while in 2,315 cases the country where the child might be located has been identified and notified.

New trends in child sexual abuse

Some new trends in the way perpetrators commit child sexual abuse have been observed by the police:

  • transactional sexting, where perpetrators use specific platforms to make money by selling intimate photos of minors;
  • the use of artificial intelligence to help perpetrators produce child sexual abuse material and to make it easier for them to reach children online;
  • remote sexual abuse, where the client and payer of the sexual abuse watches the sexual abuse of a provider on the other side of the world from behind a computer screen;
  • sexual abuse in a virtual environment ("metaverse"), where sexual abuse is perpetrated through avatars or through the forums of a particular virtual environment;
  • the use of cryptocurrencies to pay for child sexual abuse or to buy sexually abusive material. The latter has also been found in several investigations of online child sexual abuse, where the perpetrators use cryptocurrencies to conceal their identity and the payment method is simple.
  • Perpetrators also use the darknet to connect with each other, to obtain or sell child sexual abuse material, and to hide their identities, using false information, pseudonyms, fictitious email addresses, etc.

The most common forms of online child sexual abuse

The most common forms of online child sexual abuse continue to be the solicitation of children for sex and the provision of intimate photographs in which the child is naked, usually through social media and other virtual environments, where the perpetrator manipulates and establishes trust with the victim and then sexually abuses them. The sharing of child sexual abuse material among perpetrators is common, meaning that they sexually abuse children in a physical environment, record the abuse and share it, or obtain such recordings on the internet. Another common form of sexual abuse of minors is when a boy and a girl in an intimate relationship send intimate photographs to each other, which are then distributed further by one of them.

Once again we would like to warn parents about selfies taken by children when they use smart devices without supervision, have unrestricted access to the internet, access social media mostly through their parents' online accounts, and when they undress in front of the camera and unknowingly post such images or videos.
We urge parents in particular to be vigilant about what their children do on the internet, and not to give their child ownership of a smart device and unrestricted and unsupervised access to the internet too early.

In 2022, the police dealt with 163 offences of the presentation, manufacture, possession and distribution of pornographic material (compared to 175 the previous year). This year (until the end of October), we dealt with 140 such offences.

Operation coincides with World Children's Day activities

The operation to investigate and combat the sexual exploitation of children also coincides with World Children's Day, which is today. Saturday, 18 November 2023, was European Day on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse. On this occasion, we want to send a message to everyone that the rights of children, who are our greatest asset and most vulnerable group, come first. Children have the right to be safe, and we, the police, are committed to ensuring that children enjoy that right.

At the same time, we would like to tell all child sex abusers who either physically sexually abuse children, or produce, share or store material depicting such abuse, that we are constantly on the lookout for you and that we will find you. Police officers and criminal investigators work closely together in an international environment, both with the Western Balkan region and with European and other countries around the world. We cooperate particularly intensively with Europol, Interpol and Cepol, exchanging information and good practices and training together.

We need society as a whole to be aware that the internet can be dangerous and that we can all work together to make what is a useful experience also a safe one. Prevention is the focus of the fight against online child sexual abuse. Parents in particular are the ones who can reduce the risk of their child becoming a victim or perpetrator of sexual abuse. But since sexual abuse also occurs behind the walls of the home, it is, of course, incumbent on all of us who deal with children to contribute to making our children safer everywhere, including online.

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