Department of Justice Seal

Prepared Statement of Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales
Before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs
Concerning Sexual Exploitation of Children on the Internet

Washington, D.C.
September 19, 2006

Mr. Chairman, Senator Sarbanes, and distinguished Members of the Committee, thank you for having me here today to discuss this vital issue of protecting our children from exploitation on the Internet.

As all of you know, none of us can under-estimate the importance, or the urgency, of this threat against our kids.

Every day, pedophiles troll the Internet to see and sell images of child abuse. They also look for ways to contact our children over the Internet. They are hoping to make contact with the very young, the very innocent, to commit unthinkable acts and potentially sell images of those crimes to other pedophiles.

It is unfortunate that one of the greatest inventions of our generation – the Internet – is providing a building ground for these heinous crimes. That is why parents, volunteers and law enforcement must make the Internet a battleground. We must fight every day because predators seek to hurt our kids every day.

As the father of two young boys, this issue is one that I take extremely seriously on both personal and professional levels. I know the same is true for members of this committee. We are all aware that a society’s ability to protect its children is a critical marker of that society. That is why protecting our children from sexual exploitation on the Internet is a high priority of the Department of Justice.

I know that the issue of child molestation, rape and pornography can be difficult for people to focus on because it is, simply, so terrible. But we cannot turn away to preserve our comfort level. We must confront the brutal facts. For example:

*Virtually all images of child pornography depict the actual sexual abuse of real children. In other words, each image literally documents a crime scene.

*These are not just “pornographic” pictures or videos. They are images of graphic sexual and physical abuse – rape, sodomy and forced oral sex – of innocent children, sometimes even babies.

*The Internet has created a shocking field of competition to see who can produce the most unthinkable photos or videos of rape and molestation. In the perverse eyes of pedophiles and predators, this means the younger, the better.

Working with federal investigators and advocacy groups, I have seen just how horrific these images can be. I have seen a young toddler tied up with towels, desperately crying in pain, while she is being brutally raped and sodomized by an adult man. I have seen videos of very young daughters forced to have intercourse and oral sex with their fathers and pictures of older men forcing naked young girls to have anal sex. These are shocking images that cry out for the strongest law enforcement response possible. Moreover, these disturbing images are only the beginning of a cycle of abuse. Once created, they become permanent records of the abuse they depict, and can haunt the victims literally forever once they are posted on the Internet. Unfortunately, advances in technology have also made it easier and easier for offenders both to profit from these images and to distribute them to each other. Once images are posted on the Internet, it becomes very difficult to remove them from circulation. Even more disturbing is the fact offenders rely on these images to develop a plan of action for targeting their next victims, and then use the images to groom victims into submission.

The challenge we face in cyberspace was illustrated by a new national survey, released in August 2006, conducted by University of New Hampshire researchers for the National Center for Missing & 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.

As I mentioned, this battle against child exploitation is a top priority. Earlier this year we launched a program called “Project Safe Childhood” that is helping to coordinate the good efforts of U.S. Attorneys offices, law enforcement and advocacy groups. Through Project Safe Childhood we are constantly expanding our efforts to address the sexual exploitation of children on the Internet and the financial underpinnings of this exploitation. The program is helping law enforcement and community leaders develop a coordinated strategy to prevent, investigate, and prosecute sexual predators, abusers, and pornographers who target our children.

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 continuously heard from state and local investigators and prosecutors is that many Internet Service Providers don't retain records for a sufficient period of time. 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 see the initiative to protect our children as a strong, three-legged stool: one leg is the federal contribution led by United States Attorneys around the country; 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 Financial Coalition Against Child Pornography and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children -- without which we would not have the Cybertipline.

I want to note that the Financial Coalition would not exist without the leadership and vision of the Chairman of this Committee, Senator Shelby, who was the catalyst in bringing industry leaders together to address this serious problem.

Congress has also provided invaluable support for our efforts by passing the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006. The Adam Walsh Act, signed by the President in July, will help us keep our children safe by preventing these crimes and by enhancing penalties for these crimes across the board.

None of our efforts can stand alone. All must involve high levels of sharing and coordination. That is what Project Safe Childhood is all about.

One final note that I’d like to share with the Committee today is that our fight against the proliferation of child sexual exploitation on the Internet does not stop at our borders. 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, including those concerning the financial components of these crimes.

I am grateful that the Committee shares the Department’s commitment to protecting our children. Again, I want to thank Chairman Shelby for establishing the Financial Coalition Against Child Pornography. I also want to thank Senator Santorum for authoring the provision in the Adam Walsh Act that authorized the Department’s Project Safe Childhood initiative. Senators, your exemplary actions have truly shown the depth of your commitment to protecting our children from abuse that no human being should have to endure.

Mr. Chairman, thank you and the Committee for the opportunity to speak to you today, and I would be pleased to answer any questions the Committee might have.