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Prepared Remarks of Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales at the Press Availability Following the Project Safe Childhood Roundtable

September 13, 2007

Good morning. It’s good to be here in Des Moines with U.S. Attorneys Matt Whitaker and Matt Dummermuth.

We are well into the second year of Project Safe Childhood – a Department of Justice initiative that seeks to better protect America’s children through increased efforts in investigation, prosecution and also awareness about the sexual abuse and exploitation of children.

PSC is led by U.S. Attorneys’ offices. It marshals federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute offenders, as well as rescue victims.

It is an initiative important to me both professionally and personally, as a dad. And I am pleased that, in one of my last events as Attorney General, I am able to highlight this issue once again.

We are in the midst of an epidemic of sexual abuse and exploitation of our kids. My personal goal as Attorney General has been to chase down these people who hunt our children like prey, and to bring them to justice.

In the first half of Fiscal Year 2007, Internet Crimes Against Children Task Forces – which are made up of state and local law enforcement and supported by Department of Justice funds – made 1,139 arrests for online child exploitation crimes across the nation, an increase of nearly 20 percent over the number of arrests during the same period in Fiscal Year 2006.

I’m also proud to be able to say that United States Attorneys’ Offices initiated 1,657 online child exploitation prosecutions during Fiscal Year 2006. On the current pace for 2007 we are poised to show a nearly 25 percent increase.

The results are not just in numbers of convictions; nearly 60 percent of those convicted in federal court during Fiscal Year 2007 have been sentenced to at least five years in prison—and eleven defendants have been sentenced to a life term.

We can only imagine how many children will never be harmed because those predators are off the streets. Keeping offenders away from kids is a big part of why we work so hard to get high sentences—but it can’t end there. We have an obligation to kids and parents to do everything we can to make sure those sex-offenders don’t strike again.

A recent sentencing here in Matt Whitaker’s Southern District was a good example.

Terance Scott Edgington of Osceola, Iowa, was sentenced earlier this year to a maximum statutory term of 360 months imprisonment for production of child pornography. Edgington was convicted of drugging 23 minor children ranging in age from18 months to 12 years of age, to produce child pornography.

In Iowa’s Northern District this year, U.S. Attorney Matt Dummermuth prosecuted the case of James Bentley, who was sentenced in June of this year to 100 years in prison. Bentley was found guilty of sexually exploiting two children – sisters. One was nine and one just 13 months old. He used the girls to produce child pornography.

PSC has had a particular focus on protecting kids from online predators and child pornographers like Bentley and Edgington. Because while the Internet is perhaps the greatest invention of our times, it has also, unfortunately, provided pedophiles with vast opportunity to entice and exploit our children.

It has provided a terrible marketplace for the criminal images that are child pornography. And while we can’t be sure exactly how many pedophiles are online at any given time, we do know that when law enforcement goes online and enters a chat-room in the guise of a pre-teen, it is usually just a matter of moments before an adult male makes contact.

This makes the Internet a place where we must put attention and resources into prevention.

Prevention is in fact one of the highest goals of PSC. When parents, coaches, teachers and kids are better educated about the threat, there is a better chance of protecting against it.

Law enforcement is, of course, critical, but prevention is best accomplished through education and partnerships.

As a society, we already share a revulsion for what pedophiles and predators criminals do to our children. The crimes are so terrible, that people are uncomfortable talking about them.

But if we are to make real progress… If we are to really stop pedophiles and predators before they strike… We need to move our country past revulsion and on to action by parents, community organizations, law enforcement and victims groups.

This is what I’ve encouraged law enforcement and the advocacy community to do as long as I’ve been Attorney General, and I intend to continue my own work on behalf of kids after I have returned to private life.

I want to thank everyone here in Iowa, and the people all over this great nation, who are in the arena, fighting this critical battle for our kids.

I’ll take your questions now.