SAN ANTONIO, TX (ICE) – Determined to curb the escalating number of children falling prey to sexual predators online, representatives from federal and local law enforcement, along with a leading children’s advocacy organization, announced Tuesday the launch of Project iGuardian, a first-of-its-kind national cyber safety campaign spearheaded by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in partnership with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC).
Project iGuardian is viewed as a vital next step in HSI’s ongoing effort to combat online child sexual predation. Last year alone, HSI special agents logged nearly a million hours working child sexual exploitation cases, opening more than 4,000 investigations. Just last week, ICE announced a probe targeting a child exploitation scheme operating on the Darknet’s Onion Router, or Tor network, that identified more than 250 minors, in the U.S. and around the globe, who had been sexually exploited. As part of the scheme, the14 defendants allegedly duped and enticed the juvenile victims into producing sexually explicit material of themselves.
As part of Project iGuardian, HSI special agents, together with their law enforcement partners, will visit schools and youth groups across the country to provide children and parents with hands-on tips on how to avoid falling victim to online sexual predators. Using super hero-style characters and trading cards developed expressly for the initiative, the law enforcement personnel will remind young computer users to “think before you click.” The presentations are age-appropriate, adapted for audiences ranging from grade school students to youths in their early teens.
In companion briefings tailored for adults, Project iGuardian presenters will discuss resources parents can use to protect their children from cyber predators and monitor kids’ online activity. Much of the material included in the presentations was originally developed by NCMEC, which provides Internet safety and prevention resources for families and professionals who work with children, through its NetSmartz Workshop.
HSI will be working closely with its partner law enforcement agencies from the 61 Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Forces nationwide to coordinate and conduct the Project iGuardian presentations. The initiative builds on the outreach already being conducted by ICAC personnel in local jurisdictions, giving the effort a national scope. According to the participating agencies, cyber safety education not only aids in prevention, it also frequently generates valuable case leads.
“As we become more “connected” perpetrators are becoming more and savvier in their grooming tactics. Perpetrators of sexual crimes against children thrive off of silence, and being connected via the internet provides an opportunity for perpetrators to stalk and groom our children in silence. Early education and identification is the key in preventing such crimes. This project will assist in shinning a light on those dark areas where perpetrators are trying to hide,” said Director of Program for ChildSafe, Randy McGibeny.
“As the San Antonio Regional Alpha Krav Maga Training facility, self-defense is of the utmost importance at Patriot Martial Arts. We have a free abduction prevention seminar we do for the children of our community. We educate them and their parents about predator characteristics and the tricks predators employ. We then teach the children how to physically get to safety if approached by a "bad guy". Unfortunately, cyber exploitation is a much newer and easier outlet for these predators. We are very excited to bring iGuardian to Patriot Martial Arts! Education is a powerful tool to help all of us fight against this horrible crime,” said Patriot Martial Arts Owners, Tom and Juanita Howanic.
Organizations and schools interested in requesting a Project iGuardian presentation can do so using a link on ICE’s website. At that link, users will also find general cyber safety tips for kids, parents and educators. Those seeking further guidance can use the link on ICE’s website to access NCMEC’s NetSmartz Workshop, which features more detailed information on numerous topics related to online safety.