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Gonzales at the Protect Our Children Conference
Kansas City, Missouri September 14, 2006
Good morning. It’s good to be in Kansas City, and I’m especially glad to have the opportunity to discuss the protection of our kids. When President Bush talks about the strength of America, he sometimes refers to Armies of Compassion rising up to fight the evils of society. The rise in the number of sexual predators should be heard as a call to arms. This is a topic close to my heart and I know that all of you feel as strongly as I do on this matter. To us, the battle lines are clear and we know why we fight. We fight for our children, that they may enjoy the promise of America. We fight for their innocence and their dreams. It is a fight for our future. I think for everyone here today it’s true that we have a calling and are on a mission to protect children. This is our responsibility . . . our motivation . . . our daily objective. Unfortunately, the daily objective of others is dark and sinister. Harming our children, preying upon their innocence, is the aim of sexual predators. Make no mistake, sexual predators are a determined and desperate brand of criminal. It is a wrenching reality that, every day, children are sexually solicited online. Every day. Every day, these criminals are looking for children to hurt. Every day, they are visiting chat rooms where our children think they are safe. Every day, they look at child pornography with hopes of performing those sick acts themselves, and perhaps documenting their crimes for bragging rights with other depraved individuals.
The only response to their horrific ambitions is to respond with greater perseverance: Every day, we must re-dedicate ourselves to investigating, catching and prosecuting these sick individuals. Every day, we must educate children and parents about the threat. And every day, we must talk to our own kids about what they are seeing, what they are hearing, and who they are communicating with on the Internet. The Internet has made the global responsibility of protecting our kids even more challenging. While being perhaps the greatest invention of our generation, this tool has also, unfortunately, provided elements that criminals love: a cloak of anonymity, speed of communication, and global access to potential victims. The Internet has provided pedophiles with limitless back rooms, dark shadows, and escape routes. It has made it hard to find the criminal but terribly easy to see the crime. The internet also allows them to brag about their crimes, creating a sick field of competition to see who can produce the most unthinkable photos or videos of rape and molestation. In their perverse eyes, this means the younger, the better. Most images today of child pornography depict actual sexual abuse of real children. Each image literally documents a crime scene. These are not just “pornographic” pictures or videos. They are images of graphic sexual and physical abuse of innocent children, sometimes even babies. We need to get the public—as well as government officials—to start thinking about it in the right terms. It is brutal, it is heinous, and it is criminal. The challenge we face in cyberspace was underscored by a new national survey, released a few weeks ago, conducted by University of New Hampshire researchers for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The study revealed that a full third of all kids aged 10 to 17 who used the Internet were exposed to unwanted sexual material. Much of it was extremely graphic. There was some good news in the survey. It found that there has been some reduction in the number of children who have received an online sexual solicitation. One in seven children surveyed this time had received an online sexual solicitation, which is a six percent improvement over the one in five children who received such solicitations in the last survey, conducted five years ago. This likely means that parents and kids are becoming more aware of the dangers online, and more responsible in the way they use the Internet. That said, we still have a lot of work to do. One in seven kids getting solicited is one in seven too many. And this most recent survey showed that there has been no letting up of aggressive
online sexual solicitations, where many pedophiles actually try to make in-person contact with a child. Which leads me back to my first point: every day. Every day they try to hurt our kids, and every day we work to stop them. The haunting message that these criminal acts against children occur every day in America has been echoed effectively in the Ad Council’s Public Service Announcements on the subject. I’m very proud that the Department of Justice is partnering with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the Ad Council on a new series of PSAs. This new campaign of PSAs will build on the great work already done by NCMEC and the Ad Council to raise awareness about the dangers of online sexual exploitation of kids, and to help parents and kids protect against online sexual predators. With advertising campaigns like these, we will continue to raise the profile of these issues, while sending the message to teens and parents about online dangers. The new series of PSAs will be distributed in early 2007, and we are proud to partner with NCMEC and the Ad Council on this important effort. I also want to talk about what we are doing at the Justice Department, and in partnership with all of you, to protect our children, but I think it’s important to mention, first, some of the victims who we are fighting for. Because ultimately we fight to prevent future crimes, but we do so in the name of those who have already suffered so much. We fight for the nine-year-old girl who was molested by a hotel camp counselor on a family vacation. In the state of shock, hurt and confusion over what had happened to her, she actually feared that her parents might love her less because of what had happened. We fight in honor of Jessica Lunsford, who was raped, wrapped in plastic bags and buried alive, left holding a stuffed dolphin, alone, to die by asphyxiation when she was just nine years old. We fight for Jetseta Gage, who was 10 years old when a family friend abducted her, took her to an abandoned mobile home southwest of Iowa City, and raped and killed her. We know that we can’t bring back Jessica or Jetseta, but we can do everything in our power to protect every innocent child … today and every day going forward. Our ultimate goal, again, is prevention.
Because a child who has been abused sexually bears a scar so deep, all the justice in the world can never heal it completely. We can never make things quite right, ever again. There is no moment when we can say, “It’s all better.” As a law-enforcement official, and as a parent, I am dedicated to preventing these horrific crimes. I know that all of you feel the same way. We want to be able to tell America’s children, our children, “you’re safe.” *** The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006, signed by the President in July, will help us keep our children safe by preventing these crimes. It requires sex offender registrations and those requirements have teeth. It enhances penalties and helps us keep sex offenders away from our kids after they’ve been released from prison. I also want to specifically mention two things that this historic legislation did to bolster our efforts at the Department of Justice to protect children: First, the new law establishes the Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering and Tracking Office, and it assigns the Office numerous important functions relating to the sex offender registry. The SMART Office will be led by a Presidentially-appointed Director. We are working now to establish this Office, and it will be critical to our ongoing efforts to protect kids. Second, the Justice Department’s “Project Safe Childhood,” launched earlier this year, was also given statutory authority by the Adam Walsh bill. As all of you know, it is the centerpiece of the Department’s efforts to protect America’s children. I see the campaign to protect our children as a strong, three-legged stool: one leg is the federal contribution led by U.S. Attorneys; another is state and local law enforcement, including the outstanding work of the Internet Crimes Against Children task forces funded by the Department’s Office of Justice Programs; and the third is non-governmental organizations, like the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children -- without which we wouldn't have the Cybertipline and victim advocates. None of our efforts can stand alone. All must involve high levels of sharing and coordination. And that’s what Project Safe Childhood is all about. This important initiative promises more federal resources, but my hope is that its greatest achievement will be that of increased collaboration and cooperation. I know that you all are the experts, so I want to thank you for your hard work and dedication. But I also ask for your partnership, because Project Safe Childhood is all about bringing together a blend of expertise, joined by a shared solidarity of commitment to protecting kids.
Project Safe Childhood aims to be comprehensive – covering all the things you do, from investigations to prosecutions, to prevention, to the treatment of abused or exploited children. But it won’t work without you. Already, the project has helped us identify some trends and needs, and that’s good. For example, we’ve heard from people like you, working at the state and local level, that a greater federal presence was needed in some states and localities because of insufficient criminal laws, weak sentencing structures, or inadequate resources to provide meaningful punishment to child exploiters and abusers. So while we will do all we can at the federal level, and utilize partnerships to their fullest, we also strongly encourage state legislatures to look at the laws they have on the books and make them stronger if need be. The vast majority of states have done this, and legislators are to be commended, but adequate protections are not universal and they need to be. I encourage legislatures to look at whether officers and prosecutors in their jurisdiction have sufficient subpoena powers for child exploitation cases. In states where it is not already the law, the possession of child pornography – even without the intent to distribute – should be made a felony. And some states need to increase the sentences available for certain kinds of abuse and exploitation. When it comes to strengthening state law, we must, once again, work together. Our united efforts can bring about positive change in state laws governing child exploitation offenses. This will allow us to attack sexual predators in a comprehensive fashion, maximizing punishment and deterrence at both the federal and state levels throughout the entire Nation. Our fight against the proliferation of child pornography and abuse doesn’t stop at our borders, either. It demands a global strategy. This makes it imperative that we pay attention to the laws governing child sexual exploitation in other nations. Many countries have astonishingly lenient punishments for child pornography offenses. For instance, in several nations the production of child pornography is punished with only a fine or imprisonment of less than six months or a year. Simple possession is punishable merely by a fine. Just as we need some states to strengthen their laws to punish child sex offenders, we must encourage some foreign lawmakers to strengthen their laws as well. On a law enforcement level, the Justice Department is already actively involved in fighting child pornography worldwide. We participate in international law enforcement groups such as Interpol, we station federal law enforcement agents from the FBI and other agencies abroad, and we work closely with foreign law
enforcement officers to investigate and prosecute cases. With many of you, we are committed to waging this battle against child predators in every corner of the world. *** I know that everyone in this room today is working on tough, innovative approaches to protecting children, and I want to thank all of you again for your efforts and your partnership. The more we work together, the more children we will protect from the crimes that cause wounds that never heal. There is a vast and frightening network of criminals or would-be criminals who seek to hurt our children. But we have a network, too. And it, too, is vast. It stretches from coast to coast, from city to city, and includes every parent, every school, every police station, every courthouse, every victim’s advocate and every volunteer. Our network, when used to its greatest potential, can defeat these predators who crush the very souls of their victims. Together, we can get the dangerous pedophiles off of our streets, out of our neighborhoods, and off of the Internet. I thank you for your dedication to this cause and I look forward to continuing this fight, together. I am but one soldier in the armies of compassion I mentioned earlier. But you can count on me to be by your side, fighting shoulder to shoulder—our voices united as one. May God bless and guide your important work, and may he continue to bless this great nation. Thank you. ###
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