Feds reach out to kids over online predators

“What is horrifying about that is many, many of these children are not stepping forward and saying they’re being extorted by somebody because they’re in fear,” said Patrick Redling, chief of ICE’s Child Exploitation Investigations division. “By actually putting a face to law enforcement that is working these types of crimes, we are very confident that more kids will come forward.”

It is the agency’s first concerted push to reach out to kids nationwide to promote cybersafety. The effort is a partnership between the homeland security agents who investigate online predators and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, which has been urging internet safety for more than a decade.

Since 1998, the National Center has received 2.3 million reports of dissemination of child pornography or other forms of online sexual exploitation of children, half a million of them in the last year, said John Ryan, the center’s president.

“The urgency to develop and deliver these prevention programs in these communities, particularly through the school system and particularly at an early age, has never been more important,” he said.

Under Project iGuardian, federal agents will hold workshops at schools and community organizations upon request and dole out colorful trading cards featuring super hero-style characters to grab kids’ attention. They will also speak with parents about how they can guide their children in an era where internet access is ubiquitous amid expanding wireless networks and shrinking computer devices.

Kirsten Penrose, who attended a session in Orange County, said the workshop taught her how predators use online family photos to stalk potential victims and how she can spot signs of trouble on her phone.

“For me to be aware of it and to know what to kind of look for now gives me some peace,” said Penrose, who has two teenage children. “There’s crazy people out there everywhere and they have more access than ever.”

Want to share a great resource? Let us know at