Children Saved Through Investigative Surge

By Ron Fanfair

Ron Fanfair

Writer/Photographer

Sex Crimes

A Toronto investigator took part in an international investigative surge that led to identifying and rescuing victims of child exploitation.

Sex Crimes Internet Child Exploitation Detective Constable Amy Davey was the only municipal police representative among more than a dozen international law enforcement organizations representatives who collaborated in the Homeland Security Investigations (HSI)-led Operation Renewed Hope.

The three-week investigative surge in Washington in August resulted in identifying 79 victims of exploitation (49 in U.S. and 30 worldwide) and 316 referrals to police agencies to follow up on probable identifications.

Three alleged offenders were arrested.

There were 40 investigators from over 30 countries involved in the investigative sprint designed to bring international expertise together to solve the toughest cases.

Davey, who specializes in victim identification and teaches it around the world and has participated in other similar operations in Europe, said this investigation was the most successful because of the use of facial recognition.

“I have been part of many task forces focusing on child exploitation, but I have never had the success that we had in Washington,” she said, noting that investigators brought languages, cultural and everyday knowledge to the room. “The benefit of having all the countries in one room is that I might not recognize a garbage can. If I call over someone else, they might be able to make that recognition.”

Davey and other specialists worked 12-hour days mining clues from the child exploitation photos and videos and U.S. Homeland Security were able to employ facial recognition tools.

“My job was go through the information, look for clues and provide the material to HSI who would the use facial recognition to try to locate the victims,” she said. “Using all the clues I have got, they could sift through the facial recognition results and get what we were looking for. That was the difference with this task force.”

 

Person at a desk
Detective Constable Amy Davey took part in an international effort to rescue children from abuse Photo: Brent Smyth

 

They were able to collectively solve a 22-year-old case.

“Everyone around the world has worked on this series,” said Davey, of the images of abuse. “Through all the clues we could pull out, it was believed she was living in Russia. I pulled out everything I could find from the series and was able to tell officers doing the facial recognition that she has a birthmark in a certain spot, dimples and other things. In less than a minute, the woman was found living in the U.S. and married to a Russian.”

Davey and the team were also able to crack a 10-year-old case involving a little girl who was sexually abused by her father.

“I worked through everything I could, including old grainy video,” she said. “I took screen capture from a video he posted, enhanced it as best I could and provided it to HSI who ran the face and provided me with their results. I went to a marathon event Instagram page and saw a wheelchair race that took place in Venezuela three years ago. Behind the wheelchairs is a man who just completed the race with a number on his vest.

“He had some distinct features that made me believe he is the one I am looking for. As I go through the social media page account he was seen on, I could not find him anywhere. But I am able to determine he is in a Venezuelan state. We prepare a referral to Venezuela and, about a month later, they found him and her. He was her father. The mother was aware of the abuse and they were both arrested.”

Davey said she was glued to her desk for much of the three-week operation.

“I ate at my desk because I had the ability to provide faces of children I have looked for years to an officer sitting beside me,” she said. “When you have that kind of access and potential at your fingertips as a Victim Identification Officer, it is hard to walk away.”

In her 21st year with Canada’s largest municipal police service, Davey has rescued hundreds of children around the world since joining the Internet Child Exploitation Unit in 2011.

“I think if you have an opportunity to save a child and that happens because of something you have contributed, there is no greater reward,” she said. “I have been lucky to have the support of my supervisors and the Toronto Police Service who have given me the opportunity to expand my scope and not be cornered looking for just victims in Toronto. The internet has no borders and we can’t stop if we think we know where a child is.”

The Toronto Police is one of the only municipal services in the world that is included in internet child exploitation operations.

 “We have an amazing reputation and it is because of people like Amy doing the work she is doing,” Detective Sergeant Barbara Adam said. “This task force was different because the idea was to take old unidentified series from up to 20 and 30 years ago and to have the opportunity to identify those children and provide support and resources for them. The chances are they have never got the support they need.”

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