Homeland Security launches awareness campaign to combat online sexual exploitation of children

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Department of Homeland Security is rolling out a national awareness campaign to help combat the sexual exploitation of children.


It’s called Know2Protect, and it was launched on Wednesday, April 17.

In Jacksonville, “Project Guardian” is an educational arm of that campaign. It’s working to help teach the public how parents can protect their children on the Internet.

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Action News Jax Alexus Cleavenger sat down with a Homeland Security Investigations special agent who said protecting children all starts with an open line of communication.

Benjamin Luedke, a special agent for Homeland Security Investigations Jacksonville, said you never really know how much you are exposing to a child when you let them have a smartphone.

“Any application you can download onto your phone has the ability to communicate with somebody anonymously,” explained Luedke.

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Homeland Security Investigations partnered with local organizations, including the Tristyn Bailey Foundation, to help educate parents, teachers, policymakers and children.

“We have to look at all aspects of a kid’s development,” said Forrest Bailey. “We spend a lot of time on their education, what they are doing with school activities and this social media presence is another thing we have to look at.”

In 2022, HSI investigated 6,090 cases of child exploitation. Investigators made 4,459 arrests and 2,327 indictments. Through the federal, state and local courts, HSI had 2,147 convictions, and HSI special agents identified and rescued 1,170 victims of child exploitation.

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Three signs parents should look out for that may indicate their child is in danger include hiding their online activity, turning away from family and friends and getting upset when not allowed to use their device.

“If we can get one child or one parent to come forward [and say], ‘Hey I saw this. Can you help us?,’ we are doing our jobs,” said Luedke.

To report any information about human trafficking, child sexual abuse, or the trafficking in child sexual abuse material immediately the HSI tip line at 877-447-4847.

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