How to Protect Children Online as 36 Child Predators Snared in Louisiana

Child PredatorsBuddy Caldwell, the attorney general for the state of Louisiana, announced on Wednesday, June 24, that 36 men suspected of being child predators had been arrested after a two-month investigation. The arrests were the result of an investigation which spanned multiple jurisdictions and was dubbed “Operation Broken Heart.” The men arrested were investigated after images of prepubescent children being sexually abused and raped came to light. With the wealth of child porn images being traded online, parents wonder how they can possibly protect their children from online predators.

Among the 17 agencies participating in the investigation were multiple local sheriffs’ offices and police departments. The FBI and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security were also involved in Operation Broken Heart, as was the Cyber Crimes Unit of the attorney general’s office, which rounded up 20 alleged predators and charged them with over 700 separate sex offense counts.

The Cyber Crime Unit was established in 2001 to focus on keeping children safe from predators while online. Over the past year, the unit has arrested 95 suspected child predators. Caldwell is unable to say exactly how many victims were involved in the recent investigation, but cited a study conducted in 2009 which found that 85 percent of convicted child predators had actual, physical victims.

At the press conference, held in Baton Rouge, Caldwell explained, “When these predators are online, they look for the types of images that are obscene and extremely graphic.” All told, investigators examined 200 cell phones and computer hard drives totaling over 20,000 gigabytes. The extensive work involved did not discourage investigators. As Caldwell said during the press conference, “If we are not safe and if our kids are not safe, nothing else matters.” Parents agree, and in the face of the news that 36 alleged child predators have been snared in Louisiana, they, too, will stop at nothing to keep their children safe online.

The attorney’s general released the identities, booking photos and charges brought against the 20 alleged child predators who were arrested between March and June. Most of the suspects have been charged with possessing child pornography, although other charges included on the list include the distribution of indecent behavior with juveniles, child pornography, computer-aided solicitation of a minor and one charge of aggravated rape. Another arrest made as part of Operation Broken Heart was a man charged with failing to register as a sex offender. Still more charges among those announced on Wednesday included the use of a child in a sexual performance and furnishing pornographic material to a minor. The ages of the men arrested range from 23 to 70 years old.

According to the FBI website, over half a million child predators are online everyday. Special Agent Greg Wing of the Chicago Field Office warned in 2011 that “parents can be reasonably certain that online predators” will be lurking on seemingly innocuous sites, such as a forum for a teen idol and online gaming sites, which frequently put children in vocal and written “real time” contact with fellow players. Because of this, the agency offers tips for parents to help them be more aware of what their children are up to online.

The FBI recommends that parents discuss the threat of online sexual exploitation with their children. In addition to opening the lines of communication, parents should also keep an eye on what the child is doing online. In addition, it is not enough to assume that teenagers will be honest with their parents about their Internet activities. Even if a child “friends” their parent on a social networking site such as Facebook, they may have a hidden account which they use secretly. It is also up to parents to be aware of the shorthand used by children on the Internet, such as PIR (Parents in room), PAW or PRW (Parents are watching),  P911 (Parent emergency), POS (Parent over shoulder) and (L)MIRL ((Let’s) meet in real life).

With the news that 36 men suspected of being child predators have been snared in Louisiana, it may seem a daunting challenge to protect children from harm on the Internet. The old version of the creepy predator lurking around playgrounds and parks has changed. Pedophiles go where children go, and children today are on the Internet. In addition to the above tips, the FBI has a Parent’s Guide to Internet Safety available on its website, as well as other resources for concerned parents.

By Jennifer Pfalz

The Times-Picayune: 36 suspected child predators arrested in Louisiana caught via images of sex abuse and rape of children
The Advocate: Suspected child predators arrested in Louisiana as part of nationwide Operation Broken Heart initiative
KPLC-TV: 36 suspected child predators face charges in ‘Operation Broken Heart’ Child Predators The Online Threat Continues to Grow

Photo Courtesy of Dennis Skley’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License