Police Rescue 46 Children From Sexual Abuse in 'Global Network'

Police in Australia have rescued 46 children and arrested 14 men, following an investigation into an international child abuse network that has also led to arrests in the U.S.

The victims, aged between 16 months and 15 years old, were subjected to sexual abuse and exploitation and were saved after a year-long investigation following a tip-off from U.S. investigators who were looking into an Australian internet user. Police say 16 of the children were rescued from a childcare center.

The 14 men arrested face a total of 828 charges, though detectives have not ruled out further arrests being made overseas, with suspects identified in Europe, Asia and Canada. Among the suspects is an employee at a childcare center in New South Wales who had access to 30 children. Also arrested were a number of people who held community positions, including a volunteer football coach, a disability support worker, an electrician, a supermarket employee and a chef.

A 27-year-old man is facing more than 300 charges and his 22-year-old partner has also been arrested.

Paedophile ring
14 men arrested face a total of 828 charges, Getty

Bestiality charges relating to four animals were also laid against men in New South Wales. Australian federal police's acting commander of child protection operations, Christopher Woods, said the scale of offending was unprecedented.

"These men allegedly produced child abuse material for the depraved pleasure of their peers with absolutely no thought to the lasting effects their actions would have on these children," Woods said. "Police will allege Operation Arkstone revealed a network of abuse, where the alleged offenders in the forums encouraged and emboldened each other to engage in acts of depravity and abuse of children."

The current investigation began after the arrest of a 30-year-old man in February in the town of Wyong, north of Sydney. Officers say his case, which led to him being charged with 89 offenses, led them to social media forums where images and videos of abuse were being shared.

The U.S. Homeland Security Investigations attaché to Australia, Adam Parks, has said there are several investigations underway in the United States after three men were arrested in the country in connection with the investigation.

Last month, a 46-year-old man was arrested in Vietnam and extradited back to the U.S. over charges involving child sexual exploitation in Maricopa County, Arizona. Wade Astle, who appeared on the most wanted list of a county sheriff's department in Arizona was arrested following a multi-agency operation spanning the globe.