Utah kids targeted by Internet child predators

- SALT LAKE CITY, (ABC 4 Utah) – A recent crackdown on child predators around the country by federal and state authorities in the U.S. showed the sexual exploitation of children is present in Utah and worldwide.

Operation iGuardian was a five-week surge conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations and Internet Crimes Against Children task forces across the nation.

The crackdown on the sexual exploitation of children led to the arrest of 255 child predators. Authorities also identified and saved 61 children who are victims.

Two Utah men were arrested in the operation and are accused of manufacturing online pornography or downloading and distributing the images on the Internet. One man is from Wendover and the other is from Midvale.

Jonathan Lines, Assistant Special Agent in Charge with the Department of Homeland Security and Ken Wallentine with Utah’s Internet Crimes Against Children task force said Utah is a big target for child predators.

“We would hope that people wouldn't be so naive as to buy into the ‘Happy Valley’ moniker that we often apply to Utah,” Wallentine said.

According to Lines, the two Utah men are a part of a bigger network of alleged online child predators that spans across the world.

“Somebody here in Utah can communicate and exchange these images with someone in Korea, someone in South America or someone in Europe,” Lines said.

Utah’s ICAC task force leads the nation in per capita arrests of alleged child predators.

Lines and Wallentine said Utah is a target because there is a large population of children in the state. In addition, many of those children have access to the Internet and parents have a false sense of security about their children being safe.

“Trust me, predators recognize this,” Wallentine said. “They realize Utah is a good place to target kids. We can’t let our guard down just because it is Utah.”

Authorities said parents should talk to their children about sex and use the following tips to keep them safe:

-Monitor a child’s Internet usage
-Know their passwords to social media sites
-Check who their friends are online and who they’re chatting with
-Observe interaction with others on cell phones and gaming devices

“Please talk to your children,” Lines added. “Educate your children and educate yourselves. Please do what it takes to keep your kids out of harm’s way on the Internet.”

Lines and Wallentine said the search for online predators will continue as investigators try to track down the consumers and producers of this national epidemic.

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