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Child Exploitation
06/21/2011

Cyber Crimes Unit launches task force in Puerto Rico to combat child predators

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - Citing the need for an island-wide approach to fighting the escalation of predatory crimes against children, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) has partnered with members of local, state and federal law enforcement, and community leaders, to form the "Puerto Rico Crimes Against Children Task Force" (PRCACTF).

Through PRCACTF, federal, local and state law enforcement agencies will pool their resources to jointly investigate all crimes committed against children in Puerto Rico. Task Force members will be encouraged to share evidence, ideas and investigative and forensic tools to ensure the most successful prosecutions possible. As such, PRCACTF will allow law enforcement to speak with a unified voice to defend the children of Puerto Rico.

Each year, millions of children fall prey to sexual predators. These young victims are left with permanent psychological, physical and emotional scars. It is one of ICE's most important missions to investigate and target those who possess, transport and produce child pornography, as well as those who engage in child sex tourism, and those who use sex to entice minors. Based on the number of complaints received by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) CyberTipline, Internet crimes against children in Puerto Rico are rising at alarming levels.

In July 2003, in an effort to put an end to this type of criminal activity and protect children worldwide, ICE developed an initiative known as "Operation Predator." Under Operation Predator, ICE and our law enforcement partners identify, investigate and arrest child predators and sexual offenders wherever they may attempt to hide. Since the inception of Operation Predator, the number of NCMEC referrals for new child exploitation cases in Puerto Rico has reached an all-time high, and has resulted in more than 60 arrests in Puerto Rico alone.

"ICE HSI is pleased to lead this initiative as it shows our commitment and that of our partners to protect our children from online predators," said Roberto Escobar Vargas, special agent in charge of ICE HSI in Puerto Rico. "Joint partnerships such as the PRCACTF should send a clear message to those who exploit the most vulnerable segment of our society, our children, that we will not rest until they are brought to justice."

"Since May 2006, the United States Department of Justice has been actively investigating and prosecuting child exploitation crimes through its nationwide initiative known as Project Safe Childhood (PSC)," said the U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico, Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez. "The increased coordination and teamwork that PSC has generated resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of technology-facilitated child exploitation crimes prosecuted in the federal system. In order to further enhance the Department's efforts to fight child exploitation, however, the Attorney General recently expanded PSC to include non-Internet related crimes. Therefore, PSC now covers all federal child sexual exploitation crimes, including domestic prostitution of children, international travel for sex with children, and child sexual exploitation in Indian country, as well as unregistered child sex offenders. We firmly believe that the creation of the PRCACTF is perfectly consistent with the Attorney General's recent expansion of PSC."

"The Government of Puerto Rico is committed to this U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement initiative whose main purpose is to prevent, investigate and prosecute crimes perpetrated through the use of the Internet," said Guillermo Somoza, secretary of Justice. "Information security has received a new impulse from different governments and we cannot fall behind and that's the reason why we are sharing resources with federal agencies as it is our duty to remain vigilant of cyber-attacks that endanger the safety of our children. We will make our prosecutors, the Bureau of Special Investigations (NIE), the Interpol and other resources available to ICE to make this initiative a success," added Somoza.

José Figueroa Sancha, Puerto Rico Police Department's chief of police, mentioned that "this new initiative embraces a new approach in a joint effort of not only state and federal law enforcement agencies but also our community leaders in order to prevent crimes against innocent children. Puerto Rico's Police Department is dearly committed in the safety and the well-being of all of our children, especially those who have been victims of sexual predators. As we have mentioned in the past, the public safety of our island is everyone's responsibility. It is necessary that we all join forces in the fight against crime but at the same time teach our new generations the importance of dignity and respect; all which will conclude in a law and order society."

The PRCACTF is composed of the following federal and state agencies:

  •  U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
  • U.S. Attorney's Office
  • U.S. Marshals Service
  • Puerto Rico Department of Justice
  • Puerto Rico Department of Education
  • Puerto Rico Department of Consumer Affairs (DACO)
  • Puerto Rico Department of the Family
  • Puerto Rico Department of Treasury (Hacienda)
  • Puerto Rico Police Department
  • Puerto Rico Forensic Science Institute (ICF)
  • San Juan Police Department

ICE encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free hotline at 1-866-DHS-2ICE. This hotline is staffed around-the-clock by investigators. For more information, visit www.ice.gov.