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August 9, 2023Washington, DC, United StatesChild Exploitation

HSI, partners launch first US-based international victim identification surge

Results in identification of hundreds of child victims, rescue of several from active abuse

WASHINGTON — The Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Cyber Crimes Center’s (C3) Child Exploitation Investigations Unit completed Operation Renewed Hope last week, resulting in the generation of 311 probable identifications of previously unknown victims, including 14 positive contacts and several confirmed victim rescues from active abuse. The operation, which began July 17, was the first operation of its kind to be led in the United States. HSI hosted international law enforcement agencies to work together to identify previously unknown victims of online child sexual exploitation and abuse.

“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.”

Working on child sexual abuse material contained in HSI holdings, teams expertly combed through and analyzed unidentified series of child sex abuse material, each containing one to hundreds of images and videos of abuse, to identify children and offenders and locations where abuse is or was occurring, and to create lead packages for appropriate investigative partners in the furtherance of associated law enforcement actions.

More than 100 leads containing probable identities and locations of children were identified through sophisticated investigative techniques targeting violators who operate via the internet, including the use of forums, websites, email, chat rooms and file-sharing applications. Leads are compared against records of unidentified children and offenders in Interpol’s International Child Sexual Exploitation Database and then disseminated domestically to HSI field offices and 25 partnering countries — with arrests of active abusers already occurring in some cases in the United States and Canada.

Operation Renewed Hope consisted of HSI special agents, victim identification specialists, computer forensic analysts and criminal analysts who worked side by side with domestic partners from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the International Center for Missing & Exploited Children in partnership with the Tim Tebow Foundation, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Justice Department’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, the FBI and the Northern Virginia Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force alongside international partners from Interpol, Europol, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Ecuador, Estonia, France, Germany, Ireland, Spain and the United Kingdom.

In fiscal year 2022, C3 and HSI field office efforts resulted in the identification and/or rescue of 1,170 child victims in child exploitation investigations and the arrest of 4,459 individuals for crimes involving the sexual exploitation of children. With its victim-centered approach at the forefront of operations, HSI victim assistance specialists assisted more than 300 child exploitation victims in the last fiscal year and continues to provide critical assistance to victims of criminal acts.

HSI investigates, disrupts, and dismantles terrorist, transnational and other criminal organizations that threaten or seek to exploit U.S. customs and immigration laws. HSI has broad legal authority to conduct federal criminal investigations of the illegal cross-border movement of people, goods, money, technology and other contraband into, out of, and throughout the United States. HSI uses these authorities to investigate a wide array of transnational crime and violations of customs and immigration laws, including cybercrime; child exploitation; financial fraud and scams; human rights violations and war crimes; human smuggling and trafficking; identity and benefit fraud; illegal exports of controlled technology and weapons; intellectual property theft and trade fraud; money laundering; narcotics smuggling; terrorism and national security threats; and transnational gang activity.

Members of the public who suspect a child might be a victim of exploitation are urged to call the HSI tip line at 866-347-2423 or fill out the online tip form. Follow us on X, formerly known as Twitter, @HSI_HQ to learn more about HSI’s global missions and operations.