NEW ORLEANS — Determined to curb the escalating number of children falling prey to sexual predators online, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in partnership with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), recently announced the national launch of Project iGuardian, a first-of-its-kind national cyber safety campaign. As part of iGuardian, HSI special agents are visiting schools and youth groups across the country to give parents and children hands-on tips on how to avoid falling victim to online sexual predators.
HSI New Orleans launched the iGuardian campaign in Louisiana Wednesday with the first presentation in the state before approximately 150 middle school students at St. Cletus Catholic School in Gretna.
The iGuardian presentation, for students and parents, focused on good decision making and the psychological aspects of the dangers of online encounters. The presentation also fosters a discussion between students and parents.
Project iGuardian is 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. In March, ICE announced a probe targeting a child exploitation scheme operating on the Darknet's Onion Router that identified more than 250 minors, in the U.S. and around the globe, who had been sexually exploited. As part of the scheme, the 14 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 children's 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.
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 children, 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.