What Is Project Safe Childhood And Why Is It Influential?

Medically reviewed by Majesty Purvis, LCMHC
Updated May 27, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
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According to the creators of this initiative, Project Safe Childhood is defined as "[A] nationwide initiative to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse." It was launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice in the US government.

The website states, "Led by the US Attorney's Offices and the Criminal Division's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS), Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state, and local agencies to better locate, apprehend, and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the Internet, as well as to identify and rescue [survivors]." 

The internet can have positive aspects, but it may also open opportunities for child exploitation by online sexual predators. As many children use the internet on computers, tablets, and cell phones (sometimes unrestricted), Project Safe Childhood focuses on keeping them safe. They aim to find those seeking to exploit children and ensure proper measures are taken to stop them, whether through the law or special investigations.

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Why is Project Safe Childhood influential? 

Many people may believe that keeping children safe is a priority. However, they might not be educated on the statistics about child exploitation online or the strategies people use to harm children. If you don't know any children or aren't a parent, it may not be a topic at the top of your head. 

Without media coverage, it can be challenging to know what's occurring. Project Safe Childhood brings this topic to the public eye and acts quickly. Below are a few reasons this organization can be influential on the safety of children in the US and worldwide. 

They are led by the United States attorneys' offices and the Criminal Division's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section

Project Safe Childhood is under the leadership of United States attorneys' offices and the Criminal Division's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section. It’s a nationwide initiative focused on prosecuting individuals involved in crimes against children, including distributing child sexual abuse material and engaging in child exploitation crimes. 

Project Safe Childhood ensures that state and local law enforcement provide support to victims. By leveraging partnerships and resources, it aims to ensure the safety and well-being of children in the digital age.

They take direct action 

Project Safe Childhood is a way for the US Department of Justice to take direct legal action against people who harm and exploit children. Acknowledging a problem and spreading the word can be influential. However, the Department of Justice and its partners are committed to action and visible results. 

In the department's online press room, they frequently report arrests and sentencing of those they've caught. You can also learn more about Project Safe Childhood's achievements by reading their fact sheet. In 2014, they achieved 3,248 indictments against 3,422 defendants for offenses involving the sexual exploitation of minors. 

Partnerships and networks established by Project Safe Childhood have helped improve local law enforcement's response to these crimes through special task forces to help them catch predators sooner rather than later. The ripple effect from these efforts can also be seen worldwide, with operations to stop childhood exploitation internationally.

They offer education and resources 

Identifying children being exploited and arresting the people behind the acts are two significant parts of what Project Safe Childhood does. Education and resources for families are other meaningful ways they make a difference. 

In addition to Project Safe Childhood, the US Department of Justice provides resources like AMBER Alert, currently used in all 50 states for recovering abducted children. As of 2023, AMBER alert has recovered over 1,127 children who were abducted or kidnapped. 

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention is committed to helping juveniles in crisis by collaborating with professionals to reduce delinquency and improve the juvenile justice system. The Department of Justice also makes it easy to use other services and organizations that are dedicated to the cause, including the following: 

  • iKeepSafe: A product committed to providing a safe online environment for children by certifying digital products used by schools and families.

  • INOBTR: "I Know Better" is an organization founded in 2007 that helps children and their families by providing resources for proactive education and spreading public awareness.

  • Office of Educational Technology: Part of the US Department of Education, the OET develops policies for managing national educational technology.

They reduce the consequences of child exploitation and child sexual abuse

According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in seven children experience abuse or neglect in the US. In addition, over half a million people are considered to be online at any given moment, intending to exploit or harm children. Childhood abuse and exploitation have long-lasting adverse effects, including: 

  • Improper brain development

  • Impaired cognitive, social, and emotional development 

  • Lower language development

  • Anxiety

  • Physical and psychological trauma

  • Behavioral challenges 

Being abused as a child can significantly impact one's ability to function as an adult healthily. Children who were abused or neglected are at an increased risk for arrest, teen pregnancy, and substance use. The work done by Project Safe Childhood and its partners helps stop and prevent child exploitation, so fewer children endure the adverse impacts of abuse that can last into adulthood. 

They spread awareness of the level of child sexual exploitation occurring 

According to the US Department of State, live-streaming acts of child exploitation on web cameras and cell phones for profit have become common. In many cases, predators use apps that appear innocent to target children. This abuse happens to children of all ages and backgrounds from around the world, and law enforcement teams in many places lack the experience and knowledge needed to solve the problem.

The federal law agency explains that "Successful detection and prosecution of perpetrators requires advanced cybercrime investigative skills, criminal laws, and procedures that keep cyber evidence and allow for prosecution of crimes committed online, specialized training for prosecutors and judges, cross-border law enforcement cooperation, and specialized care for child victims." Project Safe Childhood works to achieve these goals.

Project Safe Childhood is increasing the number of people caught and convicted of these crimes, making it riskier for people to partake in them.

Getty/AnnaStills

What to do when you've been impacted by child exploitation 

You're not alone if you or a loved one has experienced childhood exploitation. Although the effects of exploitation can be scary, and the aftermath can be challenging to cope with, there are various ways to improve the outcome in these situations. Finding support may start with knowing what resources are available to you. 

If you are afraid to try in-person therapy to discuss what occurred to you, resources like online counseling might be beneficial. Online counseling services like BetterHelp can offer safe and affordable support from a comfortable environment like your home. In addition, the counselors are vetted and complete a background check before offering therapy. Many online counselors have experience treating those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from events like child exploitation online. 

If you're uncertain whether online therapy would work for you, note that many studies back up its safety and effectiveness. One of the benefits of online therapy is that it offers the option to chat with your therapist using safe messaging software. One study found that clients using an online chat therapy platform reported reduced symptoms of mental health conditions and felt the platform was as effective as in-person therapy. 

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Gain insight into safe internet behaviors to safeguard your child

Takeaway

Children are a vulnerable population and are often targeted online. Programs like Project Safe Childhood have been created to help children escape these situations and to educate families and educators about the real risk of child exploitation. Despite the progress the US Department of Justice has made over the last few years, there may still be steps to take to ensure these crimes don't occur. 

If you or someone you know has been affected by the online exploitation of children, know that resources are available to help. Survivor services can often be found via government and community programs, and counseling can be reached online or in-person to cope with the impacts of these occurrences. You can also find prevention tips through the Project Safe Childhood website.  

If you've witnessed a cybercrime like child exploitation, you can report the crime through the FBI's partnership with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The form is available on their website, and you can also call the hotline at 1-800-THE-LOST if you suspect you've seen a missing child or are an exploited child looking for support.

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