STORY FROM A SPECIAL AGENT: I’M MAD WE FAILED TO PROTECT OUR CHILDREN
By: Austin Berrier, HSI
My name is Austin Berrier, and I am a special agent with Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). I first pinned on a badge in 1993 as a military police officer in the Marines, then spent five years in municipal policing. I started with the HSI in 2003 and have been investigating the sexual exploitation and trafficking of children for the last 13 years. For the last 11 years, my job has been to assume the role of an online sexual predator to infiltrate spaces on the internet where the worst-of-the worst predators abuse children in real time, conduct custom or bespoke molestations and create first generation sexual abuse content.
The purpose of the brief work history was to illustrate that I may be what some would call a “salty” or veteran, or even “jaded” cop. I have seen my share of horrific events and spent countless hours dealing with humanity at its worst.
The sexual abuse, exploitation, and trafficking of children is by far the most horrendous crime I have had to investigate. In the early days of my time as a child exploitation investigator I found myself shocked and dismayed at the barbarity of humanity. I was baffled that people could treat others, let alone children, in such a horrific manner. As I became better at my job and found myself in a unique position to “swim in the deep end” of the swill with the worst offenders, I realized that most of the polite society does not have a firm grasp on what is happening. Many parts of polite society think this crime type is vanilla nudist images, high school teens being sexually active, or kids being curious. The truth is far, far worse. Think of the most graphic, violent, sexually deviate act, then double it, then have it happen to a toddler. That is the reality.
Let me tell you a story. On July 15, 2015, I received a panicked phone call from one of the best investigators on the planet, a Detective Constable from Toronto. She had arrested a predator who told her that children were being sexually abused on a live-streaming platform. Now remember, this is 2015, pre-pandemic, pre-TikTok, and no one knew what this platform was, at the time. Anyways, she began her investigation and soon witnessed what turned out to be a 6-year-old boy being sodomized by his 19-year-old brother, in real-time, for about fifty people to watch. She was in a panic. Luckily, we worked together, and we were able to find that child in about 14 hours and stop the abuse.
The problem was, we now knew about this space on the internet where the unspeakable was happening – children were being abused LIVE, in real time, and people were logging in from around the world to watch, to comment, to direct. At that moment, the two of us made the decision we would work to infiltrate the community and do what we could.
I spent the next 40 months watching grown men sexually abuse children, most of them under 10 years old. I spent those 40 months in a constant state of terror because I knew the abuse was occurring and I was trying to find it, document it, and then stop it.
I spent Christmas Eve of 2015 watching a 4-year-old girl in Denmark be brutally raped by her father, then spent the next two days working to identify her.
I watched a man in Oregon sodomize a 3-year-old boy on a Friday night when my coworkers had gone home for the weekend. Thankfully, we found that child in less than six hours.
I have typed things and watched things that no human should ever have to do. It feels like I have spent more hours with pedophiles than my family. I have sacrificed my children’s birthdays and events so other children could have a sense of normalcy.
In 40 months on this single platform our investigation led to the identification of 89 child victims. Torture and abuse were the norm.
The worst part? There were two kids I never found. I watched those children being sodomized, tortured, forced to endure the most degrading of acts.
And I could not help them.
I could not find them.
I hate myself for that failure. Maybe I did not do enough. Maybe I missed something. How can I look at my own kids, knowing I had failed?
This job is not just figuratively but is literally killing the cops who investigate these crimes. I have gained 60lbs, I am on blood thinner, blood pressure meds, my hair is falling out and I look older than my 50 years.
I have nightmares. I see those kids’ faces, not just in my sleep but when I look at my own kids.
I’m mad that society treats the offenders better than the victims. I’m mad that we spend more money protecting big companies and intellectual property rights than we do children.
I’m mad that some in the criminal justice system think this is not a priority crime worth investigating and harass those of us that have given so much.
I’m mad that the most powerful nation that has ever existed fails to protect its children.
But I would not trade this work for anything. My family understands that all kids deserve to have a healthy and safe childhood.
I’m willing to be overweight, unhealthy, sad, mad, and everything else because someone needs to do this.
If not now, then when? If not me, then who?
Here I Am, Send Me!
I will find those last two kids. As long as I can remember their faces, I will not stop looking.v