Preventing online exploitation of children

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Ryan Crane
  • USAFE-AFAFRICA Public Affairs
Child sex crimes and the online exploitation of children are a perpetual problem throughout society and the military is no exception.

Because of this, these crimes are routinely investigated by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations., in cooperation with Internet Crimes Against Children Task Forces throughout the United States, especially when an ICAC Task Force is located in the vicinity of an Air Force base.

But the cooperation isn't limited to state-side locations.

"AFOSI's 5th Field Investigations 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 of a network of 61 coordinated task forces representing 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. Rather, it requires educating parents and youths about the potential dangers of online activity.

Here are several tips to ensure your child does not fall victim to online sexual exploitation:  

-- Pay attention to your child's online activity. Most children spend a significant amount of time online or communicating on media devices. Cyber-sex offenders are aware of this so 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 your child spends on the computer or other media device - especially during evenings and weekends - and monitor their online activity.

-- Periodically review your child's computer or media devices for sexually graphic material. If your 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. You should review emails, folders, videos, images and all electronic transmissions on your child's computer or other media device.    

-- Take notice of any unusual phone calls to your 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.  

-- Be mindful of any packages or mail to your child from a stranger. It is not unusual for sexual predators to send gifts to further develop their relationship with a child.

-- Watch to see if your 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.

-- Utilize parental controls provided by service providers to limit specific content received on your computer or media device.     

-- Make sure your child never meets anyone they met online nor should they give out any personal information without discussing with you first. Additionally, spend time with your child using the internet or other media devices safely. If you have a computer, keep it in a common room with the monitor openly visible so you can observe activities. Mobile devices present greater challenges so parents should pay close attention when their child is using them.  

-- Ultimately, the best way to prevent your child from becoming a victim of online sexual exploitation is to educate them on the dangers.
If you have any questions or would like further information, please do not hesitate to reach out to your local OSI unit. In addition, resources for protecting your child can be found at the website for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

If you believe your child might be a victim of online sexual exploitation, contact OSI or Security Forces immediately. OSI units are located at most Air Force bases worldwide. If you do not have a base telephone book and do not know the number to the base operator, call toll free 1-877-246-1453 to obtain the phone number of the OSI unit nearest you. If you prefer, you can send OSI an email at

(Headquarters Air Force Office of Special Investigation Public Affairs contributed to this article)