ICE Aggressively Hunting Predators in NJ, U.S. [AUDIO]
Predator crimes are at a "pandemic level," according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Newark, and officials everywhere are aggressively addressing the issue.
Nationwide, a record number of child predators were arrested in fiscal year 2012. Nearly 9,000 individuals have been arrested since 2003 for child sexual exploitation and abuse.
"Last year, we arrested 24 individuals who were either trafficking images of children being sexually abused, or who were actively abusing children," said Andrew McLees, Special Agent in Charge with Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Newark. "I don't think there's anywhere that's truly safe from predators."
In addition to locating and prosecuting the perpetrators, HSI special agents have recently started a special focus on identifying and rescuing victims.
Operation Sunflower, launched in November, identified 123 victims of child sexual exploitation across the world. Of that number, 44 children were directly rescued from their abusers.
"We do it through sophisticated software, and special training on how to use that software to match up pictures of kids who might otherwise be unidentifiable," explained McLees.
A spike in predators has been fueled largely by the Internet, a venue in which children and adults can mingle by a single click of the mouse.
McLees advised parents, "If your children are out there online, you need to be engaged with them, and you need to understand what they're looking at and who they are talking to."
He said parents have to maintain an open dialogue with their children, so if they get involved with an unfortunate situation online or elsewhere, they will feel comfortable coming to their parents for help.