Special Report: Tracking child predators and rescuing kids

FAIRFAX, VA (WBTV) - Immigrations and Customs Enforcement Special Agent James Cole has a deeply disturbing job.

He pores over pictures and audio recordings of children being sexually abused or exploited.

"It's really tough," he says. "But we've saved over 150 children as a direct result from this program in the past two years of its existence. That makes you feel like you're making a difference."

The "program" is the Victim Identification Program. It's made up of a small group of agents who analyze pictures of abusers across the country and world.

Cole gets some images and videos from a high-tech Mobile Forensic Lab down the hall in ICE's building, located right outside Washington D.C. Some images, but not most.  Most, he says, are found on the Darknet.

"A great number of offenders use the Darknet," Cole says. "That's an area of the Internet you can't find through Google, where users stay anonymous."

The images he sees on a daily basis shows children in horribly compromising positions, but how he successfully tracks predators is by rarely focusing on the kids.

Instead of looking at the children, Cole says he dissects backgrounds and details. Small things most people would never see.

In the examples he showed Anchor Molly Grantham, it was the wavy border on a highway sign, a just-caught fish an abuser was holding or a pretzel bag in the corner of a dirty room.

"There are literally thousands and thousands of children that are victims of this crime," Cole said. "We're constantly reminded of the horrors these children suffer because we see it and hear it."

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children says 79% of sexual assaults on kids in America happens from someone they know. Cole says he sees that all the time.

"Offenders aren't strangers," he says. "They're known people. They are trying to manipulate those around them. They're trying to manipulate the child – but also the parents. I've had cases against teachers, coaches, upstanding members of the community, the government… you name it. It's people the parents trust."

This past September, ICE issued a new app for iPhones.  It's free.  They want you to download it – the more people who see the pictures they release on that app, the more likely they are to catch the predators encouraging children to perform illicit, illegal acts.

All tips can be reported anonymously through the app, by phone or online, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

One of the most urgent cases involves an unidentified man wanted for producing child pornography involving a 10-to-12-year-old girl. Images of him with her were first discovered in 2006.

Agents know what this "John Doe" looks like – Cole was able to create a profile by combining pieces of video he pooled together from various images Interpol and ICE obtained that "John Doe" had publicly posted.

To read more about this "John Doe", go here: : http://www.ice.gov/news/releases/1309/130913washingtondc.htm

In addition to profiling John and Jane Doe cases, the new smartphone app contains photos and information about known fugitives in Homeland Security criminal cases.

If you download the app, it'll enable you to receive alerts about wanted predators, to share the information with others via email and social media and to submit online tips.  It can currently be downloaded from Apple's App Store or iTunes. ICE says it's planning to expand compatibility to other smartphones in the future.

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