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Wounded warriors battle to protect children

United States soldiers wounded in battle are back in the fight, but taking on a new enemy – online child predators and their “product,” child pornography.

A joint project of the National Association to Protect Children, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Special Operations Command, wounded veterans are being trained in computer forensics to assist special agents find victims of sexual abuse and exploitation, and help identify the predators that produce, distribute and possess online pornography.

These elite members of the Human Exploitation Rescue Operative (HERO) Corps, will accompany special agents on search warrants, disassemble suspect computers, image hard drives and run forensic software to carve and index data for analysis – new weapons in the war against child abuse conducted on electronic battlefields.

The program has graduated three classes of veteran recruits, and already cyber-warriors in the Tampa, Fla., field office have helped eliminate a year-old backlog of cases.

“You’re going to be fighting an enemy who is more cruel than the Taliban and who will do more damage to the homeland and to humanity than ISIS (the Islamic State group) ever could,” said Grier Weeks, executive director of the National Association to Protect Children, to the most recent graduates. “That enemy is not targeting our military, our public squares or our industrial secrets or power grid. They’re targeting only children.”

According to the Department of Homeland Security, more than 2,300 child predators were arrested by Homeland Security Investigations last year, and the department’s computer forensics unit has seen a 30 to 40 percent increase over the last several years in the number of devices and digital media that need to be analyzed, amplifying the need for the HERO program.

New technology aids a new enemy – online child predators and abusers. Thank heavens for HEROs.

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