A large roundup by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement of suspected child predators using the Internet ended Monday with 255 arrests, including one in Jacksonville.
ICE officials say 61 victims of child sexual exploitation were identified during a five-week operation conducted by their agents, Homeland Security Investigations and Internet Crimes Against Children task forces across the country.
Operation iGuardian, which ran May 28 to June 30, was conducted as part of Homeland Security'ss Operation Predator to identify and rescue victims of online sexual exploitation and to arrest their abusers, as well as others who own, trade and produce images of child pornography.
The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office made one arrest and identified three victims as part of the nationwide operation. The suspect was not named, but authorities say he utilized a file-sharing program to transmit images of child pornography over the Internet. While serving a federal search warrant, law enforcement officers seized three computers and computer-related media. HSI special agents conducted a computer forensics examination and discovered several images of child pornography.
In June, HSI and detectives from the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office positively identified three victims depicted in the child pornography. All three victims were 12 years old or younger when the child pornography was produced. The state of Florida is prosecuting this case, and the subject is charged with aggravated capital sexual battery on a child and lewd molestation on a child.
"This is another example of the good work that is accomplished through our joint task force," said Mike Williams, director of investigations and homeland security for the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office. "Every day, federal, state and local law enforcement agencies work together to keep our communities safe and prevent our citizens from being victimized."
According to investigators, a "disturbing trend" is emerging in which child predators are increasingly using the Internet to lure children to produce and share sexually explicit material online.
Nationally, during Operation iGuardian, HSI and ICAC investigators said they found child predators chatting online with minors about sex, sending them obscene pictures, encouraging them to take nude photos and videos, and attempting to meet them in person.
The release also listed the following facts:
- Of the 61 victims identified during Operation iGuardian:
- Four were under the age of 3, five were ages 4 to 6; 13 were ages 7 to 9; 10 were ages 10 to 12; 23 were ages 13 to 15; and 6 were ages 16 to 17. Forty-two were female and 19 were male.
- Twenty-four of the 61 victims identified during the Operation iGuardian were engaging online with strangers who exploited them. Their ages ranged from 7 to 17, the majority aged 13 to 15 years old.
- In fiscal year 2013 to date, 1,660 child predators have been arrested by HSI on criminal charges related to the online sexual exploitation of children. In 2012, 1,655 child predators were arrested, 1,335 were arrested in 2011, and 912 were arrested in 2010.
- Since 2003, HSI has initiated more than 29,000 cases and arrested more than 10,000 individuals for these types of crimes.
HSI asks the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free hotline at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or by completing its online tip form.
Suspected child sexual exploitation or missing children may be reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, an Operation Predator partner, via its toll-free 24-hour hotline, 1-800-THE-LOST.