In what is being called the “first operation of its kind” in the U.S., the Department of Homeland Security partnered in recent weeks with officials in 13 countries and domestic organizations, including the Tim Tebow Foundation, to make 311 probable identifications of child sexual abuse by using technologies such as facial recognition and artificial intelligence.
Dubbed Operation Renewed Hope, the three-week “surge” began July 17 and involved special agents, victim identification specialists, computer forensic analysts and criminal analysts combing through and analyzing “cold case” records of child sexual abuse material.
The operation generated 311 probable identifications of previously unknown victims. A Homeland Security news release called it the “first operation of its kind to be led in the United States.”
The subject of child sexual exploitation has received renewed attention this summer due to the box office hit movie Sound of Freedom (PG-13), released by Angel Studios.
The Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Cyber Crimes Center’s (C3) Child Exploitation Investigations Unit partnered with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the International Center for Missing & Exploited Children, the Tim Tebow Foundation, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Justice Department’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section and the FBI, according to the DHS news release.
Officials from more than a dozen countries worked alongside U.S. agencies: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Ecuador, Estonia, France, Germany, Ireland, Spain and the United Kingdom.
“These crimes, and the criminals who commit them, are pernicious, repugnant and a scourge on the global communities we serve and seek to protect,” said HSI Executive Associate Director Katrina W. Berger. “Our HSI workforce is deeply committed to identifying, locating and rescuing victims being abused and apprehending those who prey on the vulnerable. On this we cannot be more clear: If you are abusing or exploiting children, we will leverage every authority, partnership and resource at our disposal to bring you to justice.”
Tebow himself has given the subject significant attention in recent weeks.
“At night, while you read your child a bedtime story and tuck them in safely, there are kids all over the world being raped, tortured and abused,” he wrote on Instagram this week. “Abused most times by the very people who are supposed to protect them. And if that isn’t horrific enough, their abuse is being filmed for others to watch and enjoy.”
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He added in another post, “As big and daunting as this evil of trafficking and CSAM [child sexual abuse material] is, our God is so much bigger and we can have hope that He is rescuing and redeeming lives all over the world.”
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Some of the identified victims are now adults.
Mike Prado, deputy assistant director of the HSI Cyber Crimes Center, told NBC the results of Operation Renewed Hope “exceeded our wildest expectations in the sense of being able to identify children who have been abused for, in many cases, years.” The operation allows “our agents and investigators a starting point to begin an investigation or in some cases gives us a tentative identification where we’re sending leads out to the field to confirm the identity and rescue a child.”
The Tim Tebow Foundation is a non-profit ministry that works to “fight for the most vulnerable people” in the world, according to its website. One of its focuses is human trafficking and child exploitation.
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.