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Cracking Down on Sexual Predators on the Internet

Ten Years of Protecting Our Children
Cracking Down on Sexual Predators on the Internet

12/02/03

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A decade ago, a 10-year-old boy disappeared from his Brentwood, Maryland, neighborhood. Within weeks, the investigation would uncover two pedophiles and a larger ring of online child pornographers. Within two years, it would spawn a major national initiative that is now the centerpiece of the FBI’s efforts to protect children from predatory pedophiles in cyberspace.

Here's how the events unfolded: When FBI agents and Prince George’s County police detectives went door-to-door to talk with neighbors following the boy’s disappearance in 1993, they encountered a pair of suspicious men who had been "befriending" local children, showering them with gifts and even taking them on vacation.

Evidence followed that the men had been sexually abusing children for a quarter century. More recently, they had moved online, setting up a private computer bulletin board service not only to "chat" with boys and set up meetings with them but also to share illicit images of child pornography.

That, in turn, led investigators to a larger ring of computer pedophiles. When a similar case with national reach turned up the following year, the FBI realized it was onto an alarming new trend: sexual exploitation of children via the Internet.

A Program is born. In 1995, the FBI created its Innocent Images National Initiative (IINI). Its goals: to break up networks of online pedophiles, to stop sexual predators from using the Internet to lure children from their families, and to rescue victims.

Today, 28 of the FBI's 56 field offices have undercover Innocent Images operations. More than 200 FBI agents work these cases. Some pose as teenagers or pre-teens in chat rooms to identify “travelers” who seek to meet and abuse children. Others focus on dismantling major child exploitation enterprises.

Since 1995, we’ve opened more than 10,000 total cases and helped secure nearly 3,000 convictions.

Keeping Safe. To report child pornography and/or potential cases involving the sexual exploitation of children, please contact the Crimes Against Children Coordinator at your local FBI Field Office. You can also file an online report at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s CyberTipline at www.cybertipline.com; these reports are forwarded to the appropriate law enforcement authorities.