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DHS announces new campaign to combat "unimaginable horror" of child exploitation and abuse online

New campaign aims to keep kids safe online
DHS Secretary Mayorkas talks campaign to keep kids safe online 09:18

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced Wednesday a public awareness campaign to address online child exploitation and abuse that he called an "unimaginable horror." 

"We just have to raise awareness and teach children, and everyone around them, how to recognize the predators, when they are about to be victimized, how to protect themselves and what to do," Mayorkas said on "CBS Mornings" on Wednesday.

The new campaign, Know2Protect, works with partners from the public and private sector to educate parents and their children on how to combat and report exploitation, along with how to support victims amid rising rates of abuse in recent years.

"Prevention is just the first line, but we also have to make sure that if something occurs, we remediate," Mayorkas said. "Those children come forward, the parents come forward, and we can address it, not only to help the victim, but also to hold the perpetrators accountable."

DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Meta's Global Head of Safety Antigone Davis on "CBS Mornings," April 17, 2024. CBS News

Among the agency's partners are tech giants including Google, Meta and Snapchat, which will provide users with information about the campaign on their platforms, along with sporting league partners like NASCAR and the NFL and other organizations like the Boy Scouts of America. DHS is also partnering with various law enforcement officials to continue to develop relevant training programs for law enforcement.

Meta's Global Head of Safety Antigone Davis said on "CBS Mornings" that while the tech company takes a number of measures to prevent the abuse online, they hope to work with parents and partners to help protect kids further.

"We're not trying to pass the buck to parents, but we all need to work together — whether that's DHS, whether it's us, whether it's parents to help protect kids online," Davis said. 

Jacqueline Beauchere, the head of global platform safety at Snap, told CBS News that tech companies, kids and parents share responsibility. 

"It is the responsibility of tech companies probably first and foremost, because we are providing the technology, but young people themselves have a role to play in their own safety. So do their parents," she said. 

With the announcement, DHS also released resources for parents like an internet safety checklist and tips for protecting kids and teens online, including advice on password protections, privacy settings and location services. 

The campaign, which marks the federal government's first prevention and awareness campaign to address online child sexual exploitation, comes amid a rise in reports of sexual exploitation of children in recent years. Last year, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children reported more than 36 million reports of suspected child sexual exploitation, up 12% from the previous year. The Biden administration and lawmakers in Congress have sought to implement safeguards for children in an increasingly online world with rapid technological advancements.

During a fiery Senate hearing in January, leaders of prominent social media companies were reprimanded by lawmakers for not doing enough to protect kids from being sexually exploited online, as members of Congress have worked largely unsuccessfully to approve legislation in recent years to regulate social media companies.  

Tammy Rodriquez, whose 11-year-old daughter Selena died by suicide in 2021 after sexual predators pursued her online, said she's happy to see the campaign. 

"They need to know that help is there, that they don't have to end their lives," she told CBS News.

—Jo Ling Kent contributed reporting.

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