Seventy-four men — nine of them from Southwest Louisiana — and one female have been arrested following a two-month investigation into child exploitation across the state.

Operation Broken Heart, led by the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force — a national network of more than 4,500 federal, state and local law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies — identified suspects between April 1 and May 31 who produced, distributed and possessed child pornography; engaged in online enticement of children for sexual purposes; engaged in the sex trafficking of children; and/or traveled across state lines or to foreign countries to sexually abuse children.

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry said children between the ages of 3 and 13 were featured in the images.

"This has really risen to the level of an epidemic in this country," Landry said during a news conference last week. "Operation Broken Heart sends a powerful message to predators across the country — law enforcement will find you and we will protect Louisiana's children."

Landry said the operation should serve as a reminder to parents about how dangerous the Internet can be for children.

"In recent years, technological advances have facilitated the spread of sexual abuse images," he said.

He said his office has seen an increase in online activity by child predators searching for potential victims and more images and videos of child sex abuse.

"Sexual exploitation of our kids is gut-wrenching and involves unspeakable things that would shock the conscious of each and every one of you," he said.

Children are among the most active Internet users, and are unfortunately subject to a number of threats, including inappropriate content, cyberbullying, online scams and social media "friends."

Some predators use social media to find young children. They befriend them by pretending to be their age, and usually try to meet up at some point. Setting up fake profiles is quite simple, making it important for parents to emphasize this danger to your children.

Go over the warning signs, and stress to your children they can always come to you if concerned. Encourage your children to interact online only with those they know, such as friends and relatives. Also let them know that meeting anyone they met online presents very real, very scary dangers.

To report a suspected case of Internet crimes, call 1-800-256-4506.

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