Thank you, Ernie [Allen], and thank you all for being here. I’m pleased to be joined by several key leaders and partners in the federal government ’s fight to protect our children from exploitation and abuse: Deputy Attorney General Gary Grindler, FBI Executive Assistant Director T.J. Harrington, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement Alonzo Pena, Chief Postal Inspector Guy Cottrell and U.S. Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz . We are also joined by Melissa, a courageous young woman who ’s here to share her own story of surviving abuse and to help us shine a light on the threats that our kids face and the responsibilities that we must fulfill.
Today marks an imp ortant step forward in meeting these responsibilities and taking our fight against child exploitation and sexual abuse to the next level. This morning, the Justice Department submitted to Congress the first-ever National Strategy for Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction. In developing this Strategy, we solicited ideas and sought expertise from advocates, victims, law enforcement officers, policymakers, and partners at every level of government and across the international community. Many of these partners are here today, and I’m grateful for their contributions and ongoing engagement. With their help, we’ve created a Strategy that provides a comprehensive assessment of the threats at hand, as well as the effectiveness of current efforts to combat child exploitation and abuse. Most important, this new Strategy outlines our goals and priorities going forward and details new ways we plan to improve our work, broaden our impact, and build on the progress that’s been made in recent years.
Since the Justice Department launched the Project Safe Childhood initiative in 2006, investigations and prosecutions of child exploitation crimes have increased dramatically. Unfortunately, we’ve also seen an historic rise in the distribution of child pornography, in the number of images being shared online and in the level of violence associated with child exploitation and sexual abuse crimes. Tragically, the only place we’ve seen a decrease is in the age of victims.
This is unacceptable. And although we’ve made meaningful progress in protecting children across the country – in rural areas, inner cities, tribal communities and online – and although we’ve brought a record number of offenders to justice in recent years, it is time to renew our commitment to this work. It is time to intensify our efforts.
This new Strategy provides the roadmap necessary to do just that – to streamline our education, prevention and prosecution activities; to improve information sharing and collaboration; and to make the most effective use of limited resources. It also details specific steps that are being – and will be – taken to reduce and overcome current threats. For example, the Justice Department will update the Project Safe Childhood website to improve reporting, information sharing, and public education efforts. And I’m pleased to announce that the U.S. Marshals Service is launching a new, nationwide operation targeting the top 500 most dangerous, non-compliant sex offenders.
As the Strategy makes clear, we intend to fuse cutting-edge technologies with traditional methods of law enforcement and recovery and to better leverage the capacity of our law enforcements partners, as well as the broad network of nonprofits actively engaged in the fight against child exploitation and abuse.
Congress has rightly called for such an approach – and for more aggressive enforcement of laws aimed at safeguarding our children and preventing, stopping, and punishing child exploitation crimes. The Justice Department is fully committed to answering this call. But we cannot do it alone. We will be relying on – and working closely with – the many agencies, organizations, and partners represented here today. Together, we are sending an important message – that the U.S. government, and our nation’s Department of Justice, has never been more committed to protecting our children and to bringing offenders to justice.
Not only is this a Department priority, it is also a personal priority. I am committed to this work and to the success of this new Strategy. And, despite difficult circumstances and odds, I am confident that, with this new level of commitment – and with this new plan of action – we can, and we will, make the progress our children deserve.
And, now, I’d like to turn things over to Deputy Attorney General, Gary Grindler.