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Human trafficking is a crime in which force, fraud or coercion is used to compel a person to perform labor, services or commercial sex. It affects all populations: adults, children, men, women, foreign nationals and U.S. citizens, and all economic classes. The Defense Department continues to raise awareness and do its part to end this crime.
Department of Defense
Inspector General Hotline
National Human Trafficking
per year made from sex trafficking
people worldwide are victims of forced sexual exploitation
per year from use of forced labor
people worldwide are now victims of forced labor
1 in 6
endangered runaways reported in the U.S. are likely to become sex trafficking victims
In some parts of Africa and the Mekong region children are those most sexually exploited
Migrants are particularly vulnerable to forced labor practices
Female victims forced into domestic servitude are often sexually exploited as well
Of human trafficking victims are children
Through its Human Exploitation Rescue Operative Child-Rescue Corps, the National Association to Protect Children -- known as PROTECT -- has mobilized wounded, ill, or injured service members drawn largely from America’s special operations community to combat sexual exploitation and trafficking of children.
The HERO Corps is a joint project of the National Association to Protect Children, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Special Operations Command.
The HERO Corps recruits and trains these men and women, then embeds them with law enforcement units that investigate sexual exploitation. These mission-driven Human Exploitation Rescue Operatives, or HEROs, personify the idea that combating trafficking in persons is an important and noble mission, worthy of a nation’s best efforts, and it exemplifies public-private partnerships at its best.
In late 2012, PROTECT officials met with leaders of the U.S. Special Operations Command’s Care Coalition, which assists wounded, ill, and injured Socom veterans, to discuss the urgent crisis of sexual exploitation and child trafficking. PROTECT explained that international law enforcement has identified hundreds of thousands of suspects within the United States -- and millions globally -- engaged in a flourishing black market for child abuse imagery and in trafficking of children and adults. Both agreed that highly trained special operations forces were ideally suited to combat this scourge, and that those who lost their mission on the battlefield would especially welcome a new mission and purpose.
In early 2013, the partnership was approved by Navy Adm. William McRaven, the Socom commander at the time. From that point on, the mission was planned and conducted by Army Col. Kimberly Moros. PROTECT and the Care Coalition secured agreement from the Department of Homeland Security to establish a pilot project that would accept HEROs into DHS field investigation offices computer forensic analyst interns.
DHS green-lit the project in the spring of 2013, giving PROTECT less than three months to raise funds, design programming for, and stand up the HERO Corps program. PROTECT, with a staff of just five people, would need to design the program and raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in 90 days to cover all expenses associated with travel, lodging and meals for the veterans. Due to a federal budget sequester, PROTECT, relying entirely on the private sector, would also have to provide a powerful suite of computer and forensics equipment for 24 participants, which it continued to do until 2016. These efforts were successful, and in August 2013, the first class of HEROs gathered at Oak Ridge National Laboratory for initial training.
At Oak Ridge, PROTECT assembled a faculty of respected national experts for a broad, multidisciplinary course of instruction on sexual abuse and exploitation, human trafficking, child trauma, victim services, the law enforcement landscape, criminal justice system, and the use of advanced technologies to detect and interdict criminal suspects.
To date, more than 130 veterans have entered the HERO program, 101 have obtained professional certifications in digital forensics, and 76 have graduated. Sixty-one HEROs have been hired into permanent positions with Homeland Security Investigations, and together with 31 current interns, they make up 27 percent of the HSI computer forensics workforce.
In 2015, Congress recognized the HERO Corps program in federal law, and in 2017, the U.S. Senate passed legislation to make the HERO program a paid federal internship, authorizing other federal agencies to participate and expanding the types of work HEROs could perform, including intelligence and cyber investigations.
The HERO Corps program model today includes three distinct phases of training. Phase I is three weeks of multidisciplinary study of a broad array of topics in child exploitation and human trafficking. Instructors include survivors of exploitation, experts in child trauma, and social service and mental health providers. A law enforcement curriculum includes leading law enforcement investigators, federal prosecutors, and global technology innovators. Students also receive a basic overview of the law enforcement process, including crime scene investigations, the forensic process, and report writing.
In Phase II, HEROs move to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Cyber Crime Center for nine weeks of intensive training in computer technology, digital forensics, and victim identification. This training provides professional certifications and training in widely used computer forensic tools. HEROs also receive advanced training in tools developed by a global consortium of law enforcement and industry called Project VIC. These technologies give HEROs additional expertise in working with international partners to detect and prosecute international trafficking and child exploitation networks.
During Phase III, HEROs deploy to HSI field offices across the United States for a 10-month internship, working actual criminal cases as computer forensic analysts.
The H.E.R.O. Child-Rescue Corps has largely transformed the way that a large federal law enforcement agency, Homeland Security Investigations, combats child exploitation. Since its inception, virtually all new HSI forensic capacity in this field has come from the HERO program, supplementing federal agents with specialized civilian professionals. Federal “HERO 2.0” legislation would expand the HERO mission to allied missions throughout federal government, broadening its reach to related forms of trafficking in persons. State and local law enforcement has also begun to participate in training and hiring veterans for this work. HEROs regularly report the rescue of children as a direct result of their training and efforts.