HERO Corps: Program Trains Wounded Vets To Fight Child Sexual Exploitation

The HERO — Human Exploitation Rescue Operative — Child Rescue Corps is a program designed to allow wounded, injured, and ill veterans to continue to serve their country in a heroic manner. By training these veterans in sophisticated computer forensics, they are able to team up with federal agents in order to combat online sexual exploitation.

Each candidate for the HERO Corps is a veteran of recent wars, and many were part of the even more elite special operations forces. These are veterans who conducted the courageous and necessary missions targeting America’s most dangerous enemies in places like Afghanistan and Iraq.

And now, after their career in the military has ended, many still have a desire to serve. And that purpose that drove them to serve in the military could be fulfilled by the HERO Child-Rescue Corps, helping to save at-risk children from sexual predators.

[Photo by Ben Sklar/Getty Images]

The HERO Corps was developed by Protect, in partnership with Homeland Security Investigations and U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM). It consists of 11 weeks of intensive training, followed by 10 months of “on-the-ground” experience. The veterans in the program work alongside law enforcement teams, where they execute warrants and serve as forensic analysts. The trained veterans who are part of the HERO Corps spend their year, which is unpaid, scanning the computers and external hard drives of suspects to determine whether the suspect possesses child pornography, and whether the suspect is producing child pornography.

It is not easy work. In fact, during their year-long dedication to fighting child sexual exploitation, the HERO Corps trainees will be exposed to and sort through literally thousands of images of adults sexually assaulting children.

“You see groups of children being abused at levels the average American cannot fathom. If you imagine an infant getting gagged and bound and tortured, it’s not a rare occurrence to come across,” says J. Christian. Christian is CEO of the National Association to Protect Children. He is also an Army Ranger who fractured his spine during a mission in Afghanistan.

Christian says that many of the veterans who come into HERO Corps are looking to regain something they lost when they left the service.

“It’s an opportunity for me to go after bad guys again. The complete scope of the crime is a lot more than people probably think,” Ret. Sgt. Tom Block says.

HERO Corps program helps wounded vets
[Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images]

Block is one of 23 highly trained candidates in the HERO Corps program. His role within the program is one of support, analyzing computer files — a much different role than his last one as a soldier in the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, serving in Afghanistan. But the intent behind the role will be the same. As Block himself said, he will be going after bad guys.

Block has vision in only one eye, after an insurgent detonated a bomb that was wrapped around her body while he was on a mission in Afghanistan. His other eye bears a rather unusual prosthetic. Rather than opting for an eye that would match his other, natural eye, Block, who can be seen in the video from Army Times below, selected a prosthetic that bears the Captain America Shield.

“He doesn’t like bullies. And neither do I,” Block explains of his choice.

There is plenty of work for veterans like Block in the HERO Program, which, in its third year, hopes to place its 100th veteran soon. According to Christian, the U.S. is the largest producer of child pornography in the world. Christian also states that the U.S. is home to the most commercial child porn websites. One task force found over 300,000 unique computers engaged in trafficking child pornography. What makes that figure even more disturbing is that a study by the University of New Hampshire found that more than half of those who possess or trade child pornography are “hands-on” offenders themselves.

“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,” Block says.

There is no doubt that the HERO Corps — and the veterans like Tom Block, who volunteer — are doing a great amount of good in the world. Once placed within a law enforcement agency, one HERO can stop or prevent the exploitation of as many as 50 children per year.

Some people, it seems, were simply born to serve.

[Photo by David Goldman/AP Images]