"The dirty old man stereotype no longer applies." That was the pronouncement of ICE Homeland Security agent Claude Arnold yesterday, during a press conference that revealed the results of "Operation Broken Heart." Authorities announced that more than 275 people were arrested in May as part of a huge child exploitation investigation stretching across five California counties. Among those arrested: a retired sheriff’s deputy charged with distributing child pornography and a special needs teacher's assistant who was trying to arrange sex with two kids, per the Los Angeles Times. "The perpetrators in these cases come from all walks of life," said Arnold.
The common thread, however, was the Internet. "It has become the preferred playground for child sex predators," Arnold said. Investigators often posed as minors online to lead predators to stings; the Washington Post cites the cases of an Army solider who was arrested after showing up to meet what he thought would be a young girl for sex and a former substitute teacher who was nabbed during what he thought would be a meeting with an 8-year-old boy. Still, "we can't arrest our way out of the problem," Arnold added. "Parents and children need to have frank conversations about how to stay safe in cyberspace." (A huge child-porn sweep in New York last month led to the arrest of a police officer, a paramedic, a rabbi, a nurse, and a Boy Scout leader.)