Over 330 people from 38 countries have been arrested following the shut down of Welcome to Video, one of the “largest dark web child porn marketplaces” in the entire world.
Additionally, investigators rescued 23 children in the U.S., Spain, and U.K., all of whom were actively abused by Welcome To Video users.
The UK’s National Crime Agency, who had been operating in partnership with agencies from the US, South Korea, and Germany, said the site was “one of the first to offer sickening videos for sale using the cryptocurrency bitcoin.”
Also, Welcome to Video was run from South Korea and housed nearly eight terabytes of content. To put that in perspective, eight terabytes would allow for around 5,120 streamable hours on Netflix.
For the site, that meant their 250,000 videos, which had collectively been downloaded more than a million times, included over 5,000 hours of sex acts involving children, toddlers, and infants. The site even requested its users not upload videos featuring adults-only porn, only exclusively of kids.
The videos and images are currently being examined by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and so far 45% of them contain images that officials say have not been previously known to exist.
How bitcoin led investigators to child abusers
The international task force was able to take down the site last year after it was discovered during an investigation into a well-known pedophile, Matthew Falder.
Welcome to Video’s discovery prompted the UK’s National Crime Agency Investigations Lead Nikki Holland to comment, “Dark web child sex offenders…cannot hide from law enforcement. They’re not as cloaked as they think they are, they’re not as safe as they think they are.”
The UK’s National Crime Agency also said that arrests have been made in the US, UK, Ireland, Germany, Spain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the Czech Republic, Canada, and South Korea, among others.
One of those arrested in South Korea was the site’s owner Jong Woo Son, 23, who had nine indictments, or charges, brought against him by US officials and is currently in prison.
According to reports, the takedown is notable also for the investigation that enabled it, which focused not on offensive hacking efforts or surveilling encrypted communications, but on tracing bitcoin transactions.
“In August 2017 an investigation began into the illicit transactions of virtual currency on the dark net. By following the funds on a blockchain it ultimately uncovered the severity of Welcome to Video, a Tor network-based child pornography site that accepted payment in bitcoin,” deputy assistant attorney general Richard Downing said in the press conference. “The Department of Justice will not stand for exploitation of our nation’s children. Let today’s announcement send a message: If you were involved in these crimes we are coming for you.”
While the site’s being brought down is a huge victory, the unfortunate truth is that child abuse sites that function similarly to Welcome to Video, where site users are encouraged to contribute their own unique abusive content wherever possible, are not the exception on the dark web—they’re the rule. The reality seems to be that when such a site goes down, one hundred others thrive in its place.
Don’t believe us? Let’s get the facts.
What is the dark web?
Before we get into the details, it’s important to have an understanding of what the “dark web” is.
While the dark web is part of the internet that we use daily, it’s not a part that your average person has access to through a simple Google search: it’s a hidden part of the internet that serves to facilitate a lot of criminal activity.
Illicit drugs? Yep. Illegal weapons? Oh yeah. Stolen credit card numbers? You bet. And, of course, child porn. It’s all there and it’s all available for purchase at prices that are much cheaper than you might expect.
Speaking specifically about porn on the dark web, the content is extremely gruesome. We can’t and won’t describe it here, it’s that horrifying.
When you get a glimpse of what survivors of dark web porn have been through, it’s no wonder that the process of healing is long and intense for them.
Just take it from this survivor, who was sold into pornography production by her family when she was only a child.
The difficulty of healing after rescue
“You’re just trying to feel O.K. and not let something like this define your whole life,” says one woman in a recent New York Times report who, at age 11, was filmed being sexually assaulted by her father. “But the thing with the pictures is—that’s the thing that keeps this alive.”
“Adults, now years removed from their [child] abuse still liv[e] in fear of being recognized from photos and videos on the internet,” says the New York Times article that interviewed child abuse survivors.
“People think if we rescue them…they’ll be good,” the head of an Illinois-based anti-sex trafficking nonprofit frustratedly told us during an exclusive interview. We’ll call her “Annie.”
While the pasts of such survivors don’t control or define their futures, that doesn’t mean “they can’t be helped or functional… The cost for…children of being sex trafficked is a lifetime cost,” Annie said.
Why this matters
The internet that we have access to contains over 4.5 billion websites, but research says that that number “barely scratches the surface of what’s really out there.” Some estimates say that the entirety of the internet, dark web included, is 400 to 500 times larger. And some estimates say 30% of all of that internet bandwidth is porn.
If those figures are true, there could be 6.75 trillion, or more porn-related sites out there. Even if only 1% of those sites includes some sort of child porn, that still makes 67.5 billion child porn-related sites. Sounds bleak, right?
Here’s a takeaway from all this bad news: fighting the exploitation of children can’t be a solo mission. It’s a fight that demands that we all raise our voices against the unparalleled abuse and exploitation children are facing around the world.
We must speak out and report such content whenever we see it for those who do not have the ability to do so for themselves. Will you join us?
To report any source of child porn, check out the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) at https://report.cybertip.org/. Call their hotline at 1-800-843-5678. The government-run organization will forward your report to a law enforcement agency for investigation or action.