Good morning. Thank you, Paul.
I’m glad to have this chance to thank all of you for the work you do, individually and as an association. You are a vital partner on so many fronts: the war on terror, our efforts to eliminate gangs and violent crime and the struggle to protect our children and communities from the corrosion of crystal meth.
And I am here today to talk about another campaign that we are engaged in together, but instead of addressing what the laws we’re enforcing are, I’d prefer to begin by talking about who those laws are for.
I want to talk about the nine-year old girl who was molested by a hotel camp counselor on a family vacation, and how – 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.
I want to talk about Jessica Lunsford, who was raped, wrapped in plastic bags and buried alive, left holding a stuffed dolphin, alone, to die by asphyxiation. She was just nine years old.
I want to talk about 13-year-old Sarah Lunde, whose attacker fractured her skull and broke her jaw, blows to the head that killed her – before dumping her body in an abandoned fishing pond.
And I want to talk about Jetseta Gage, who was ten years old when a family friend abducted her, took her to an abandoned mobile home southwest of Iowa City, raped and killed her.
Jessica, Sarah, and Jetseta’s killers all have something in common. They were all known sex offenders at the time of the girls’ murders.
Protecting our children from predators is a tough, terrible reality of your job and of mine. We must stay focused on what we are trying to prevent and that means talking about these horrific crimes frankly.
I believe I speak for all of us when I say that we’d prefer to never have to prosecute another child molester or rapist. We’d desperately prefer to stop those crimes before they happen.
Because a child who has been molested, unthinkably violated, bears a scar so deep, so lasting, that all the justice in the world can never soothe it completely. We can never make things quite right, ever again. There is no moment when we can say “it’s all better” – the phrase that every parent knows to mean: “it’s over; it’s okay; you’re safe.”
As a law-enforcement official, and as a parent, there is no crime that I am more dedicated to preventing. 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.”
Just as any parent would lay down his or her own life to save their child, we all feel, deep down, that protecting the most innocent among us is more important than anything else we do.
As prosecutors, I know you have felt something beyond determination on these cases. You have likely experienced everything from the deepest sorrow to the darkest rage. And, worse, you have probably felt an overwhelming frustration that such tragedies continue despite our efforts.
But despite this frustration, you get up every morning to fight another day.
You’re able to do that because you know that our job of criminal prosecution has the power to bring both justice and protection to society. Justice is satisfying, though it does not reverse the damage of the crime. The protection that comes from removing criminals from the streets is what brings hope to us and to the people we protect.
We know we can’t bring back those innocent girls I just mentioned. We can’t bring back Adam Walsh or erase the terrible past for kids like Elizabeth Smart. But we can make sure that the depraved criminals who abduct, hurt, and sometimes kill children won’t strike again.
The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006, signed by the President last week, will help us prevent these crimes. It requires sex offenders – like the men who abducted Jessica, Sarah and Jetseta – to be registered and stay registered – even when they move from state to state. And the requirements have teeth – it is now a federal offense for these monsters not to register and stay registered. And let me assure you, this is a law we will enforce aggressively.
The new bill also helps us keep these degenerates off the streets and away from our kids even after they’ve been released from prison, reducing the chance that they’ll ever be within arms-length of their potential victims.
The Child Protection Act also enhances the penalties for various federal violent crimes and sexual offenses against children, allowing us to lock up those who abuse and exploit children for as long as possible.
I appreciate the disincentive that increased sentencing can bring. Statistics show that 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 10 boys are sexually exploited before they reach adulthood… and it is our duty as public servants to change those numbers, to step between sexual predators and our children, to put up a shield of safety.
The desire to reduce crimes against our nation’s most innocent and most vulnerable was the basis for the Justice Department’s Project Safe Childhood launched earlier this year. The Child Protection Act gives this DOJ initiative statutory authority. Its implementation will require close coordination and cooperation among all levels of law enforcement. We do our best work when we work together, and that’s why it’s important to me that we have this time, today, to re-focus our efforts and re-dedicate ourselves as a team.
As you know, the Internet – perhaps the greatest invention of our generation – has also, unfortunately, made it easier for the depraved among us to prey upon the innocent. This is where our collective efforts need to focus today.
The Internet provides elements that criminals love: a cloak of anonymity, speed of communication and global access to potential victims. It 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.
Each image that they create and distribute to their deranged cohorts literally documents a crime scene: a young toddler tied up with towels, desperately crying in pain, while she is being brutally raped and sodomized by an adult man.
Videos of very young daughters forced to have intercourse and oral sex with their fathers. Pictures of older men forcing naked young girls to have anal sex.
Sometimes the criminals use webcams so that other molesters can watch their disgusting acts live.
As law enforcement officials, I know that you have seen the same images; I know you understand the problem. But it bears repeating so that our public audience understands and does not forget what our fight is really about.
The Internet has provided these criminals 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.
So law enforcement is faced, once again, with staying one step ahead of the criminal mind. The battleground has switched from dark alleys and basements to the hidden rooms of cyberspace. We must deprive these criminals of their cloak of secrecy and shine light into the shadows where they lurk.
The Project Safe Childhood initiative, with statutory authority granted by the Adam Walsh Child Protection Act, will seek to stem this surging tide of online exploitation and abuse of our children. The initiative is broad: we’ll work to investigate and prosecute more cases in the federal system, to coordinate better with state and local law enforcement, to train more officers, and to do a better job educating parents and children about the dangers they face online.
We at the Department are proud to provide assistance and organization and funds… but as all of you know, those who are closest to the crimes and the victims are in the best position to really effect change.
State and local prosecutors, and especially district attorneys, will be critical in the overall success of Project Safe Childhood.
It is through greater coordination and collaboration that the Project will protect children from the crimes that cause wounds that never heal.
This is why I have directed U.S. Attorney in every district across the country to bring all the prosecutors and investigators in their district together, to create strategic plans that will map out the way in which the districts will attack this problem. We need District Attorneys to be a central voice, and a key partner, in this effort. Because of your experience and expertise we want you to work closely with U.S. Attorneys in deciding how cases should be handled in each district, and in which forum cases should be filed.
In addition to investigations and prosecutions, we seek your help in reaching out to communities to educate parents and children about online safety. As District Attorneys, you know your communities the best. We look to your leadership and ask for your guidance in directing the Department’s focus in community outreach and educational efforts.
I feel strongly that Project Safe Childhood offers additional opportunities to help our kids. I know that many of you have been focused on this issue for years, fighting for America’s children without rest. For example, there is Jim Reams, County Attorney in Rockingham County, New Hampshire, who for many years has developed and taught courses on how to investigate internet crimes against children. And Jim is his own pupil. He has prosecuted many of these heinous crimes. I’d like to mention just one—the case of Jessie Labrie. Labrie was a daycare worker who offered to baby-sit for children in their parents’ homes. Parents would leave for the evening thinking their child was in good care, when in reality Labrie was molesting them. Jim Reams successfully tried Labrie before a jury for molesting one child and obtained a sentence of 20 to 40 years. Labrie later pleaded guilty to molesting 3 more victims, one of whom was previously unknown to the police. I was struck by this case because who hasn’t left their child with a babysitter. It could happen in any town in America. Like Jim, many of you are leaders on the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Forces – strong and effective organizations that Project Safe Childhood will complement and support.
We will increase the federal assistance in this area, in terms of investigating and prosecuting cases, and make sure that all federal resources are brought to bear in helping you to fight these terrible crimes. And where federal law provides advantages over the state or local laws in your jurisdiction, such as the federal administrative subpoena power or the federal mandatory minimums, Project Safe Childhood will help you take advantage of those laws.
There is so much work to do, and I want to close by giving two examples that I hope will fuel your commitment to the task ahead. One is a specific challenge, and the other, a story of success.
As we’ve looked at ways to improve the law enforcement response to the problem of online exploitation and abuse of children, one thing we’ve consistently heard from investigators and prosecutors is that many communications service providers don’t retain records for a sufficient period of time. As you well know, this has hampered, or even ended, numerous investigations across the country. It helps keep up those walls of darkness that predators like so much.
Several months ago, I asked a working group within the Department to look at this issue, and we’re working hard on ways to remedy this problem.
I’m interested in knowing whether this is an issue for your district. Have your investigators or prosecutors been hampered in particular cases by a lack of records? I’d really like to hear your views and stories on this issue, so please give us a call or send me a letter with your thoughts.
I want to make a final point by telling you a story of a recent successful prosecution.
On June 26th, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut announced that Sonny Szeto, age 22, had pleaded guilty to one count of using the Internet to have sexual contact with a minor and one count of possession of child pornography.
According to documents filed with the Court and statements made in court, Szeto used the Internet to persuade a minor to engage in sexual activity. This particular criminal used “MySpace.com” to lure an 11-year-old girl into having illicit sexual relations. When law enforcement conducted a search of his residence, including his computer and various computer media, they found hundreds of images of child pornography.
Today, thanks to the coordinated efforts of the FBI and the Connecticut Computer Crimes Task Force, this predator is off the streets, and America’s children are safe from his vile intentions. He faces a minimum term of five years imprisonment, a maximum term of 30 years imprisonment and a fine of up to $250,000 for using the Internet to engage in sexual activity with a minor. He also faces a maximum term of 10 years imprisonment and a fine of up to $250,000 for possession of child pornography.
Mr. Szeto is one of many pedophiles roaming the Internet today. But his capture and prosecution is an immeasurable success because every sexual predator who is incarcerated represents the incalculable: one, two, or maybe dozens of children that have been protected, who can continue to have a safe and innocent childhood.
Regrettably, no single individual, or single arm of law enforcement, can shield our kids from these unthinkable acts. The criminals’ network is too vast and their numbers too great in our open and democratic society.
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 and includes every member of law enforcement. Our network, when used to its greatest potential, can defeat these criminals 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.
The partnership between U.S. Attorneys and District Attorneys, state Attorneys General, and other prosecutors – as well as law enforcement at the local, state and federal levels – will be key to Project Safe Childhood.
We will also work with nonprofit groups who bring a level of expertise and historic perspective to the issue. We have to remember that there are so many people – both in law enforcement and in civilian ranks – who have dedicated their lives to protecting children from these crimes, and we must all hear them when they speak. The threat is too great to limit our efforts, or to shut out those who could help.
I thank you for your dedication to this cause and I look forward to continuing this fight, together.
May God bless and guide your important work, and may he continue to bless this great nation. Thank you.