FAIRFAX, Va. (WAVY) — A new center in Northern Virginia is hoping to crack down on global child sex tourism.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) opened its new Angel Watch Center as the result of seeing an 18 percent increase of child exploration cases this year, according to a press release from the agency.
HSI says Operation Angel Watch has been around since 2007 to target people who were convicted of sexual crimes against children and who may still pose a threat.
Assistant Special Agent in Charge Jim Stitzel with HSI’s Norfolk office said the center will flag those registered sex offenders who travel abroad to foreign countries.
“I had the privilege of working overseas in the Caribbean and Jamaica. Very frequently, we found registered sex offenders were traveling overseas to engage with child sex tourism. It’s important to have these kind of flagging mechanisms in place and now that [we have] Operation Angel Watch, there is a brick-and-mortar center. It’s formalizing that process, and its really going to help us continue our ongoing efforts,” he said.
Stitzel said in the 2019 fiscal year, the agency alerted 125 countries about 3,500 registered sex offenders traveling to their countries.
HSI has a number of analysts who are working on the internet’s darknet to stop these meetings from happenings, according to Stitzel.
He said many minors meet strangers in chat rooms and parents need to be vigilant about who they’re interacting with.
“Unfortunately cyber space has become the hunting ground for sexual predators. So, from a parents perspective, it’s important to speak to your child, engage with them often, speak with them about their online use. From a child’s perspective, you can’t be talking to strangers online. You can’t be putting a picture on the internet that you’re not comfortable with sharing with your family or friends,” Stitzel said.
HSI encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free Tip Line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or by completing its online tip form. Both are staffed around the clock by investigators. From outside the U.S. and Canada, callers should dial 802-872-6199. Hearing-impaired users can call TTY 802-872-6196.