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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — During Child Abuse Prevention Month, and after a pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) office in San Juan brought back its iGuardian Summit, a summit focused on keeping children and teens safe from online predators through education and awareness. In its seventh presentation, the event reached more than 1,700 public school students between the ages of 12 and 16 from the Caguas regional district.
“Our goal is to provide children the right tools so they can protect themselves from sexual predators who use the internet with the intent to persuade and coerce our minors to engage in illicit sexual behavior,” said HSI San Juan acting Special Agent in Charge Rebecca Gonzalez-Ramos. “To that end, we have the best resources and tools which we want to put at their reach so we can prevent these crimes.”
HSI San Juan special agents organized the iGuardian Summit. The curriculum included presentations from HSI agents and officials from the Puerto Rico Police Bureau that focused on internet safety and self-esteem to address bullying threats that students face.
HSI San Juan’s Puerto Rico Crimes Against Children Task Force Supervisor Alek Pacheco offered the students different resources and tools to help them identify online predators and make smart decisions when using social media.
Lt. Jimmy Concepcion of the Puerto Rico Police Bureau, who’s in charge of the Department of Public Safety’s Experience Program, discussed with students the importance of believing in themselves and their ability to accomplish their goals.
The Municipality of Gurabo and its mayor, Rosachely Rivera, supported the activity in collaboration with Secretary of the Puerto Rico Department of Education Eliezer Ramos Pares, who was also present.
“It is an honor for Gurabo to receive this event in our town,” said Rivera. “It is important that we can integrate in an initiative in favor of children in Puerto Rico. This orientation is important for students and teachers. There are people who want to harm our children through social networks. With this in mind, we are taking a step up and making a commitment to the safety and well-being of young people with access to social networks.”
“We thank Homeland Security Investigations for the initiative of holding this cybersecurity event for our students from ninth to twelfth grade about the risks of misuse of social networks and platforms. This initiative — coupled with the work of our Office of the Security Commissioner — Cesar Gonzalez, is part of our commitment to strengthen all issues related to the safety of our students and school communities. We have reached very significant and productive agreements with federal and state security agencies that have been of great benefit to our agency. The doors of our schools are always open for activities such as the one we have participated in today,” said Pares.
“The joint collaboration efforts between federal and state agencies have been fundamental in achieving a safe environment in our schools,” said the Education Department’s Security Commissioner Cesar Gonzalez Cordero. “Educating them on the correct use and danger of exposing themselves on the networks is part of the work we are developing to create awareness among our students and young people so that they do not become victims of harassment or any type of abuse. The orientation that these hundreds of students have received today we know will be beneficial to their safety and that of their families.”
Children from the Silverio Garcia School in Naguabo demonstrated a promotional video titled “Red Flag” with a call to report any suspicious activity and stop predators.
Project iGuardian began nationwide in 2014 from an initiative created at HSI San Juan. Since then, more than 30,000 children have attended from San Juan, Trujillo Alto, Toa Baja, Ponce, Guaynabo and Gurabo. Even during the pandemic, HSI expanded its iGuardian program to include virtual presentations for school systems and youth organizations across the country. In Puerto Rico, HSI livestreamed an internet safety presentation on Facebook that reached an audience of more than 10,000.
The iGuardian narrative builds on the outreach the HSI-led Puerto Rico Crimes Against Children Task Force is already conducting, in which local, state and federal law enforcement officials pool their resources and investigate crimes against children in Puerto Rico.
One of the concepts officials explained during the event was sextortion. Sextortion occurs when, through deception, predators convince their victims to produce explicit videos or photos.
HSI uses a victim-centered approach in its investigations. To that end, the agency has more than 30 forensic investigators extensively trained to help HSI special agents gather information that often leads to arrests and convictions.
In 2022, nationally, a total of 1,170 victims were identified and rescued, and a total of 2,147 arrests were made for child exploitation. In Puerto Rico, over 100 predators have been arrested in the last five years, and officials arrested eight people between January and March this year.
The iGuardian event will continue its tour in other municipalities in Puerto Rico.
If you suspect any potential child exploitation activity or would like more information about Project iGuardian, call 787-729-6969.
HSI is the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel and finance move. HSI’s workforce of more than 8,700 employees consists of more than 6,000 special agents assigned to 237 cities throughout the United States, and 93 overseas locations in 56 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’s largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.
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