The Internet has transformed how children learn and communicate, for better and for worse. On one hand, it has brought a wealth of information and research to kids' fingertips at the click of a button. However, the Internet can be extremely dangerous. The web is the preferred playground for sexual predators, according to Harold Ort, public affairs officer for ICE. Any child with access to a computer or a smartphone is at risk. Last year, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) logged nearly a million hours working over 4,000 online sexual predator investigations.
A crucial component of reducing the number of sexual exploitation cases is education. "The online sexual exploitation of children has reached epidemic proportions. Increasingly these incidents involve young people who are self-producing explicit images and sending them over the Internet. We can't arrest our way out of this problem. Raising awareness about the risks that lurk in cyberspace is key to helping keep kids safe," ICE Deputy Director Daniel Ragsdale said. To promote more widespread Internet safety education, the HSI and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) launched Project iGuardian, the first national cyber safety campaign of its kind, in March. The project's mission is to teach kids -- and to help parents and educators teach kids -- to "think before you click" in this digital age. Here are four ways you can use iGuardian's resources to help keep your kids safe online:
- Request to have iGuardian talk to your kid's school or your organization. HSI special agents and law enforcement officers give hands-on, age-appropriate tips on how to avoid online sexual predators to both students and parents. Younger kids receive trading cards that separate the good guys from the bad guys, making the experience interactive and more memorable. To ask for a presentation, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Check out the NetSmartz Education Outreach Program provided by NCMEC. NetSmartzKids.org has games, videos, and more to introduce kids to Internet safety. NetSmartz.org educates parents on how to prevent and report instances of child exploitation. The website breaks down cyber safety by topics ranging from blogging to gaming to sexting.
- Download the Operation Predator app on iTunes. The Operation Predator app was designed to seek the public's help in tracking down suspect child predators. Users can receive alerts about wanted predators and can share the information with friends through email or social media. Parents with this app can also look at the latest news about arrests and prosecutions of child predators.
- Know who to call. If you suspect a crime, call (866) 347-2423 or go to the HSI Tip Line. Report suspected child exploitation or missing children to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children at (800) 843-5678.
Even the brightest kids can fall victim to sexual predators, according to Ort. It is so important to educate them before something happens. Project iGuardian has set out to do just that.