Preventing online exploitation of children

by Staff Sgt. Ryan Crane U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa Public Affairs
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Courtesy photo

Child sex crimes and online exploitation of children are perpetual problems throughout society and in the military, there are no exceptions.

As a result, these crimes are routinely investigated by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations in cooperation with Internet Crimes Against Children Task Forces located in the vicinity of an Air Force base. Although ICAC Task Force investigates crimes throughout the United States, the corporation is not only limited to stateside locations.

“AFOSI’s 5th Field Investi-gations Region supports U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa commanders across the AFOSI criminal, fraud and counterintelligence mission set,” said Col. James L. Hudson, 5th FIR commander. “Our involvement with the Department of Justice’s Internet Crimes Against Children program is specifically designed to identify and investigate Air Force personnel worldwide who target or prey on children through the Internet.”

The ICAC program was developed in response to the increasing number of children and teenagers using the Internet and other technology, the proliferation of child sexual abuse images available electronically and the heightened online activity by predators seeking unsupervised contact with potential underage victims. It’s made up of a network of 61 coordinated task forces, which represent more than 3,500 federal, state and local law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies.

These agencies engage in investigations, forensic examinations and criminal prosecutions, which help state and local agencies develop effective, sustainable responses to online child victimization, including responses where military members are stationed overseas.


“The Uniform Code of Military Justice holds service members to standards of conduct under U.S. law regardless of host nation laws or the location of the service member,” said Maj. Dylan Williams, 3rd Air Force deputy staff judge advocate. “Further, U.S. federal laws make it a crime for any U.S. citizen to travel internationally for the purpose of engaging in sexual activity with a minor or to use the Internet for the purposes of sexual exploitation of a minor.”

If convicted, Airmen could be subjected to several punishments to include confinement, reduction in rank, forfeiture of pay and allowances and punitive discharge.

Investigating and prosecuting sex offenders is not enough to resolve the problem of online child sexual exploitation — it also requires educating parents and youths about the potential dangers of online activity.


Here are several tips for parents to ensure their child does not fall victim to online sexual exploitation:

• Parents should pay attention to their child’s online activity. Most children spend a significant amount of time online or communicating on media devices. Cybersex offenders are aware of this, therefore, they target children by befriending them and ultimately grooming them toward engaging in sexual activity. The best method to thwart the offender is by limiting the amount of time a child spends on the computer or other media device, especially during evenings and weekends,  and monitor their online activity.

• Parents should periodically review their child’s computer or media devices for sexually graphic material. If a child has fallen victim to a sexual predator, they might have sexually graphic material sent to them by the offender. This is an effort by the offender to sensitize the child to sexual activity. Parents should review emails, folders, videos, images and all electronic transmissions on their child’s computer or other media devices.

• Parents should take notice of any unusual phone calls to their child. While sex offenders may target children online, they will often attempt to use other forms of communication, including the phone, to engage in sexual conversations with the child.

• Parents should be mindful of any packages or mail to their child from a stranger. It is not unusual for sexual predators to send gifts to further develop a relationship with the child.

• Parents should watch to see if their child is using another person’s login account. It is not uncommon for sexual predators to ask children to communicate with another account to prevent parents from seeing the content.

• Parents should utilize parental controls provided by service providers to limit specific content received on their computer or media device.

• Parents should make sure their child never meets anyone they met online, nor should they give out any personal information without discussing with the parent first. Additionally, it’s recommended that parents spend time with their child showing them how to use the Internet or other media devices safely. If a computer is in the household, parents should keep it in a common room with the monitor openly visible so they can observe activities. Mobile devices present greater challenges so parents should pay close attention when their child is using them.

• Ultimately, the best way for parents to prevent their child from becoming a victim of online sexual exploitation is to educate them on the dangers.

For any questions or further information, reach out to a local OSI unit. In addition, resources for parents protecting their children can be found at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s website, www.missingkids.com/home.

If a parent believes their child might be a victim of online sexual exploitation, they should contact OSI or Security Forces immediately. OSI units are located at most Air Force bases worldwide. If access to an on-base telephone is not possible, call toll free 1-877-246-1453 to obtain the phone number of the nearest OSI unit or email OSI at hqafosi.watch@ogn.af.mil.