Cover photo from The H.E.R.O. Child-Rescue Corps website. 5 minute read.
The recording and distribution of child sexual abuse images, or “child porn” as it’s known, is a huge global problem. But thankfully, action is being taken to fight back.
It’s virtually impossible to calculate the extent of the abuse because it is so widespread and takes so many forms, but here’s a little bit of context: last year, the Canadian Center for Child Protection launched a trial run of Project Arachnid, a program designed to recognize webpages hosting, promoting, or displaying content depicting the sexual abuse of children. In six weeks, Project Arachnid analyzed 230 million web pages, located 5.1 million with pedophile material, and identified 40,000 abuse images that hadn’t been found before. That means over 2% of all websites processed in the study trafficked in child pornography, and that number doesn’t account for any offline activity whatsoever.
The Internet Watch Foundation, an organization dedicated to reducing the availability of online sexual abuse content, uses a team of analysts that finds a website displaying child sexual abuse every nine minutes. The National Center For Missing And Exploited Children estimates that at least 100,000 children every year are victims of sexual exploitation.
Clearly, this is a huge problem in our society, and it only seems to be growing.
A new frontier to fight
All these numbers are pretty shocking, and they can make the fight against child sexual exploitation seem hopeless.
Thankfully, that’s not the case. There are plenty of people and organizations who aren’t willing to throw in the towel, some of which are the toughest men and women on the planet.
Enter Human Exploitation Rescue Operative Child-Rescue Corps (HERO Corps), a small program run by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The HERO Corps has a unique mission: training injured, wounded, and sick U.S. military veterans to be on a new frontline—the fight against online child sexual exploitation.
In the 11-week HERO Corps program, veterans receive a crash course in computer forensics and criminal justice—how to process a hard drive, identify a suspect, and build a criminal case against them. After the initial program, they’re then assigned to ICE branches around the country, where they complete a year-long internship that makes them eligible for continued employment as a certified child-porn fighter. How cool is that?
Bringing back hope
The HERO Child-Rescue Corps is the ultimate “two birds, one stone” program. It provides support and purpose for returning veterans suffering from physical and mental injuries. Chris Wooten, a graduate of a recent HERO program, says that working to stop child porn and sexual abuse has helped return “a sense of pride” that he’d struggled to find since he left the military seven years ago.
“This job, I’m actually going out and saving kids and stopping bad guys, and help putting bad guys behind bars,” he said.
Don’t think for a second that the work is easy, though. After employment, going to work every day means looking at graphic and horrifying images of child sexual exploitation and abuse. It’s tough, but Wooten says being “able to handle the images” is another “source of pride.”
Shannon Krieger, another wounded veteran who’s gone through the HERO program, says, “As a new dad, I would want someone just like me going after these guys, so here I am, and here we are.”
Porn and sexual abuse are linked
The more we learn about the extent of child porn and sexual abuse, and the damage it causes to children, families, and society as a whole, the more important programs like the HERO Child-Rescue Corps become.
Take this personal account from a Fighter as an example of what countless people are dealing with:
“My husband let his addiction grow to the point where he didn’t just watch child porn, he produced it. Of his own child, and he abused him and others. I promise you, this man did not start out this kind of person, anyone who knows how was shocked at this discovery. He became this person! He won’t see his amazing children grow up. He’s lost the love and trust of a good woman who would have given him anything. He has broken countless hearts. The effects of his choices will not cease.” -R.
The story above is an extreme one, but interest in child porn happens more often than you’d believe. So, who is actually looking at these horrific images?
Regular porn consumption can escalate
The New York Times reports that by some estimates, 1% of the male population continues, long after puberty, to find themselves attracted to prepubescent children. One percent doesn’t sound like much, but it adds up to over 1.1 million men possibly living with this disorder just in the United States. These people are living with pedophilia, a sexual attraction to prepubescents that often constitutes a mental illness. While some child porn consumers can be classified as having this diagnosable disorder, others find themselves attracted to pedophilic content after years of interest in legal porn.
Dr. Julie Newberry is a psychologist who has worked with patients who fall into this category. In an article for PsychReg, she writes: “My therapeutic experience is that a person who views child abuse images, though committing a sexual offense, is not necessarily a paedophile. A paedophile has a primary sexual interest in children. I suggest that for some people, it is porn addiction rather than paedophilia, which is the cause. A person, usually a man, who has no sexual interest in children, can find himself ‘crossing the line.’”
Bottom line? Sometimes, a porn habit can get wildly out of control and go down a path a consumer could never have anticipated. Clicking porn is just not worth the risks.
It’s encouraging to see something like the HERO Child-Rescue Corps, which gives wounded vets a real sense of purpose and helps combat child porn at the same time. These are the kind of proactive programs that we need to effectively fight child porn, and we applaud the veterans who are taking on a new challenge to make the world a better, safer, and happier place for all of us.