Nearly every police district in Norway is now involved in the sweeping investigation into online networks of men who’ve been caught planning or engaging in sexual assaults on children. A man in his 60s in western Finnmark County is the latest to be arrested, while an alleged 23-year-old ringleader has been ordered held in full isolation.
The investigation, called “Dark Room” because the pedophile networks have flourished in the darkest areas of the Internet, also led to the suspension on Monday of a Bergen police officer. He was not ordered held, but he’s alleged to have been in possession of text depicting sexual portrayals of children. He is also the father of the 23-year-old in custody in Bergen.
Hilde Reikrås, one of the leaders of the Dark Room operation, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that she’s most surprised by the sheer extent of the pedophile networks police have exposed after a 16-month investigation that’s ongoing. “And the complexity,” she said, after investigators have uncovered around 5,000 user accounts. She expects more arrests beyond the 52 defendants now charged, all of them men and many of them highly educated with good jobs and families.
“These are people who otherwise would be defined as resourceful members of society,” said another operations leader, Janne Ringset Heltne, when the investigation was first revealed on Sunday.
Prime Minister Erna Solberg, who comes from Bergen where the investigation is based, has reacted strongly to its results now emerging. She called it “incredibly painful” to hear the stories of how material has been retrieved from the networks showing how small children have been tied up and raped, and how babies have been among those assaulted. “This is the sort of thing you wish didn’t exist,” Solberg told NRK.
The 23-year-old man who faced a custody hearing in Bergen yesterday appeared in court wearing a hood to hide his identity. His defense attorney Jostein Alvheim said the young man denied guilt and felt his incarceration was difficult to accept. He has only made a few statements to police and wouldn’t respond further until he’s had a chance to read all the charges against him.
The men arrested so far are charged with carrying out actual assaults, planning or fantasizing about assaults and ordering or arranging photos of videos of assaults on children. Police say they’re sitting on a wealth of evidence culled from the Internet, where the men involved thought they were communicating secretly.
Operation Dark Room has now expanded nationwide, as evidence points to new suspects in new areas of the country. Using new methods to track down photos and videos of victims, around 25 police officers have been working full-time on the case in Bergen all year, now joined by colleagues from Finnmark in the north to Østfold in the southeast.