Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft
White House Conference on Missing, Exploited and Runaway Children October 2, 2002
(Note: The Attorney General Often Deviates From Prepared Remarks)
Good morning. It is truly an honor to be here with you today as we renew our resolve and our commitment to defending and protecting America's children.
I want to thank President Bush for convening this unprecedented conference, and for his steadfast dedication to ensuring that all America's children have the opportunity to grow up safe, strong, and free.
I thank also the many law enforcement officials who are here today. You are on the front lines of the mission to protect our children, and I commend you for your sacrifice and your service.
I want to thank the many parents of victims who are here today. Your losses are immeasurable, yet you continue to share your experiences, offer your support, and spread your hope. Your stories are inspiration and motivation to all of us.
Today, we honor your children, and we commit ourselves to doing everything in our power to prevent another child from being victimized.
This past summer, America watched in horror as stories of missing children unfolded in the news. All across the nation, hearts ached for the innocent victims, and the families who love them. We rejoiced when children were recovered, and grieved when a child was lost.
As our awareness of the threats to our children has sharpened, we have grown even more determined in our mission to protect their lives and safeguard their innocence. The role of concerned citizens is vitally important in keeping our children safe. But we also depend on government and law enforcement to protect and to seek justice for those among us who are most vulnerable - our children.
The Justice Department's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention has unveiled the second of the National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children, and the statistics reveal that there is still work to be done.
The study estimates that in 1999, there were about 115, quote, "stereotypical kidnapings" - the rare type of high-profile, dangerous abductions chronicled in the media this past summer. In 40 percent of these cases, the child was killed - almost always within 24 hours of being abducted. In another 4 percent, the child was never recovered. But these figures only tell part of the story.
The study estimates there were over 58,000 child victims of non-family abduction in 1999. Abductors are not always strangers who snatch children from public places or lure them from their homes via the internet - indeed, 53 percent of non-family abduction victims are abducted by people they know.
And though recent high-profile abductions have involved very young children, the study shows that 81 percent of non-family abducted children and 58 percent of "stereotypical kidnaping" victims were age 12 or over.
Teenagers - and girls in particular - were the most frequent victims of both types of abductions. And nearly half of all victims were sexually assaulted by the perpetrator.
All Americans play a vital role in protecting our children, and our national awareness has resulted in the safe homecomings of many children. I am encouraged to know that the rate of recovery for non-family abductions is approximately 99 percent, but even one child victimized is one child too many.
We must also call upon our government and our law enforcement, with its wealth of resources and expertise, to defend the vulnerable and seek justice for innocent victims.
We must act to ensure that we have the investigative and prosecutorial tools to defend America's children, to prevent future crimes against them, and to bring to justice those who would seek to do them harm.
The Justice Department already commits substantial resources to this fight:
- The Federal Bureau of Investigation's Crimes Against Children Program trains state and local law enforcement throughout the country in rapid, comprehensive responses to abductions.
- We are aggressively defending our children in a growing arena for predators . the Internet. As technology has evolved, so have the means of exploiting our children. While the internet provides children a wealth of educational resources, it is also a tool for child exploitation. Internet Crimes Against Children Task Forces throughout the nation have helped state and local law enforcement agencies develop effective responses to cyber-enticement and child pornography cases.
- In an historic partnership, the FBI and United States Customs and Postal Inspectors have joined with state and local law enforcement to investigate internet offenders and bring them to justice.
- The FBI's Crimes Against Children and Innocent Images Programs have made tremendous progress in combating online child pornography and sexual exploitation. The FBI opened just 113 Innocent Images cases in 1996. In the past year alone, the FBI opened 2,366 cases. Since 1995, Innocent Images Task Forces have conducted over 5,700 investigations. 3,000 offenders have been convicted.
This outstanding cooperation has already made a significant impact. In March, the Department of Justice announced the success of "Operation Candyman," a nationwide crackdown on the distribution of child pornography on the Internet.
All 56 FBI field offices, U.S. Attorneys, the Criminal Division's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, and the FBI's Crimes Against Children unit worked closely with state and local law enforcement for more than a year to investigate and shut down "The Candyman" e-group.
The first phase netted charges against 89 individuals. To date, 520 searches have been conducted. 111 offenders have been charged. 36 have been convicted.
America's children are safer today, thanks to these coordinated efforts, but our work is far from finished. Today, I am announcing a two-part approach to strengthening our law enforcement policies to prevent predators from victimizing our children - and to punish them severely if they do.
- Within the Justice Department, the FBI will work to improve front-line law enforcement's utilization of the National Crime Information Center to ensure more rapid and more aggressive federal response in critical child abduction cases. When a child is abducted, every second is critical, and we cannot afford to lose time in sharing information and deploying resources.
- I am also reassigning 3 FBI investigative analysts to work full time at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Since 1998, the Center has received more than 90,000 tips through its Cyber Tipline. Last week was the heaviest reporting week yet, and the Center does not have enough resources to deal with the increased volume of complaints. These 3 FBI analysts will streamline the review of leads and determine immediately which cases demand aggressive FBI action, so we do not lose a single moment.
- The second part of our strategy involves working with Congress to pass a legislative package that will strengthen federal laws to prevent crimes against children, and will punish offenders more severely. Our proposed legislation will:
- authorize up to lifetime supervision for child abductors and sex offenders following their release from prison;
- enhance law enforcement tools for identifying, apprehending, and prosecuting offenders by broadening the inclusion of child sexual exploitation and sexual abuse offenses as wiretap predicates;
- eliminate the statute of limitations for prosecution of certain child abduction and felony sex offenses;
provide for civil commitment of sex offenders who may strike again if released because of serious mental disorders; and
increase penalties for child abductors and sex offenders . particularly repeat offenders.
This past April, a decision by the United States Supreme Court hampered gravely our ability to protect children from exploitation by striking down provisions of the Child Pornography Prevention Act.
In June, the House of Representatives responded by passing - by an overwhelming majority - a statute that the Department crafted carefully to address the Supreme Court's concerns while strengthening our ability to protect children from abuse and exploitation.
I applaud Congress for working with the Department to pass swiftly this critical legislation. I call upon the Senate to recognize the threat to the health and safety of our children, and to act with similar urgency and see that this legislation becomes law.
Every time a child is victimized, a grave injustice is done. I want to thank all of you for being here today. With each act of leadership, you reaffirm our commitment to our children. And with each act of justice, you honor those who have suffered.
Thank you for your work. Thank you for your sacrifice. God bless our children, and God bless the United States of America.