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Sixteen abused children have been saved from the clutches of sexual predators in the past year, identified in pictures of victims obtained by a specialist police unit based in the county.

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Kent Police run the Child Exploitation Investigation Team (CEIT) at their headquarters in Maidstone.

Experts target all forms of child abuse, from the sharing and production of child abuse images, to protecting children from online predators.

Having the largest child online protection team in the country outside of CEOP, Kent Police is the highest performing force in the country for identification of the children behind this online abuse.

The team has changed its focus, by trying to identify those children who have been victims in order that they can have closure when the offenders are brought to justice and further victims can be found.

Head of the unit, Detective Inspector Matthew Long comments: “We have changed our focus by taking a proactive approach to finding the victims portrayed in these images. “They aren’t merely pictures, as behind every image is a real child suffering from abuse and we have an obligation to find and save these children wherever possible. For this reason, every image has to be treated like a crime scene and investigated as such, employing methods of detective work, as one would use in the field.”

He added: “Sadly though, there is still much work to do and as such, we will continue to target online predators using all means available to ensure that children can grow up free from being subjected to this sickening abuse.”

Potential victims are also bein identified as advances in investigation techniques and modern technology allows them to better monitor online predators and those who share and distribute child abuse images.

The team has had hundreds of successful convictions for child abuse since its launch and this number is increasing year on year. In 2009/2010 the amount of victims increased from 61 over the course of the year, to 83 so far in 2011/2012,

The number of operations to target child abusers has risen from 71 in 2009/2010 to 76 in 2011/2012.

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