Some wounded veterans of America’s wars in the Middle East are finding a new calling. They are taking jobs helping law enforcement use the Internet to identify and track down child predators.
CNN reports that a new program called the HERO Child-Rescue Corps is helping train wounded veterans to do new jobs now that their military careers are over. It may also lead to a new purpose for those too wounded to easily do other jobs.
J. Christian, CEO of the National Association to Protect Children (Protect), says with so many soldiers coming home after “losing their mission on the battlefield,” many are looking for something meaningful to do with their lives.
Christian, a former Army Ranger, fractured his spine during in Afghanistan, so he knows what he is talking about.
“In one second their entire life changed. When that happens, I know from personal experience, you start to wonder, what can I now do? And once you find this opportunity, you know it’s truly your opportunity to step back into that role,” Christian told CNN.
Christian’s group works with U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) to train wounded heroes for a new mission, one of protecting the nation’s most vulnerable, our children.
But the program is no cakewalk for these battle-hardened veterans as they are by necessity forced to sift through thousands of photos and movies filled with exploited and abused children, a process that can upset even the toughest veteran.
“You see groups of children being abused at levels the average American cannot fathom. If you imagine an infant getting gagged and bound tortured, it’s not a rare occurrence to come across,” Christian said.
“It’s horrible. But that’s my motivation, that’s my drive. To get after these guys. Get them off the internet and hopefully I can get to them before they get to another child,” said Retired Army Ranger Sgt. Tom Block who was hurt in Afghanistan when a female suicide bomber blew herself up only feet from where he was standing.
The explosion blinded the Sgt. in his right eye and severely scarred his face, but he said he’s found new purpose working for HERO.
“I’ll be honest, looking in the mirror can be tough sometimes,” Block confided. “But you keep your faith, you keep your confidence, and you go out there and try to make somebody else’s life better. It’s what you do after-the-fact, and I think I’m trying to do a pretty damn good job.”
Unfortunately, thanks to the digital age, child exploitation is a bigger problem than it has ever been. In the 1980s, the FBI and other authorities had seriously cut down on child pornography but that was in the days when the only way to distributed it was to create photos or movies, make prints of them in labs and print shops, and then transport the images through the mail by truck.
But in this digital age, not only is it easy to disseminate child porn, the Internet also serves as a way to link sex offenders, giving them a feeling of community and support to urge them on to greater and greater exploitation and abuse of children.
The avalanche of online child abuse is so great that authorities have had difficulty keeping up with its growth.
Only weeks ago, for instance, a Michigan man and his brother appeared before a judge with one pleading guilty to raping an 18-month-old girl and recording the act to sell to other child molesters. The second is still standing trial for similar outrages.
Some success have been realized. The FBI recently used hacking tools to take down a dark web child porn website claiming over 200,000 members. The agency announced that over 1,500 cases grew out of the investigation into the site.
But the problem is still growing. Between 2007 and 2012, for instance, federal courts convicted 11,447 defendants of sexually exploiting a minor. According to a report by the Department of Justice, “These crimes have ranged from production of obscene visual depictions of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct to receipt, distribution, possession, and/or production of child pornography to the direct physical, sexual abuse of a minor.”
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston, or email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.