HOUSTON – Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales today joined U.S. Attorney Donald J. DeGabrielle Jr., of the Southern District of Texas and Ernie Allen, President and CEO of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), to highlight the ongoing efforts of federal, state and local law enforcement, as well as community leaders, in combating the sexual abuse and exploitation of children in Houston. Attorney General Gonzales and Mr. Allen also unveiled a joint public service advertisement (PSA) campaign, developed in partnership with the Ad Council, designed to educate teens about the potential dangers of online predators and sharing personal information online.
“The Internet is one of the greatest technological advances of our time, but it also makes it alarmingly easy for sexual predators to produce and trade images of the graphic sexual assault of children,” stated Attorney General Gonzales. “I applaud the efforts of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas for their commitment to protecting children from sexual exploitation, while aggressively tracking down and prosecuting sexual predators who target children.”
Launched in May 2006, Project Safe Childhood is a nationwide initiative designed to protect children from sexual exploitation and abuse. Led by the U.S. Attorney’s Offices, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the Internet, as well as identify and rescue victims. Last year alone, the Department of Justice prosecuted 1,543 cases involving the sexual exploitation or abuse of children.
Since the launch of Project Safe Childhood, two victims have been identified and rescued in the Houston area. The first case involved a 15-year-old girl who had been sexually abused by her father since the age of 10. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents initiated an investigation in Houston based upon an initial tip from NCMEC. During the course of a consensual search of the father’s home, agents found sexually explicit photographs of the father and his minor daughter. The father is presently in the Fort Bend County Jail awaiting trial on several counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child. He faces multiple life sentences.
The second case involved a 54-year-old Texas man who transmitted sexually explicit images of a 16-year-old boy via the Internet during an online chat with an undercover detective. The undercover detective was posing as a teenage boy living in Wisconsin. The online chat ultimately led to a trip by the middle-aged man to Wisconsin to meet the “teenage boy” for the purpose of sex. The 54-year-old was arrested upon arriving at the designated meeting place. He is awaiting trial in Wisconsin for traveling to have sex with a child. Through further investigation, the FBI was able to locate the 16-year-old boy who was depicted in the sexually explicit images.
“To stop the online predator it takes both prosecution and prevention,” said U.S. Attorney DeGabrielle. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas is committed to investigating and prosecuting sexual predators who target our children, while also educating the community on how to prevent these crimes.”
Project Safe Childhood partners for the Southern District of Texas include the FBI; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement; Customs and Border Patrol; U.S. Secret Service; Defense Criminal Investigative Service; Texas Attorney General’s Office; Houston Police Department; Kemah Police Department; Harris County District Attorney’s Office; Harris County Sheriff’s Office; Harris County Constable’s Office—Precinct Four; Harris County Community Supervision and Corrections; Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office; Fort Bend County District Attorney’s Office; Pasadena Police Department; Sugarland Police Department; Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office; Houston Independent School District; Brazoria County Sheriff’s Office; Children’s Assessment Center; Houston Regional Amber Plan; Crime Stoppers of Houston; YMCA of Greater Houston; Children at Risk; Houston Area Women’s Center; Boys and Girls Clubs; DePelchin Children’s Center; among others throughout the Southern District of Texas.
In addition to participating in the law enforcement roundtable, Attorney General Gonzales and Ernie Allen also unveiled a new series of PSAs regarding online sexual exploitation. The ads, which were developed jointly by the U.S. Department of Justice, NCMEC, and the Ad Council, are designed to educate teenage girls about the potential dangers of posting and sharing personal information online. The Think Before You Post campaign reminds teens that “anything you post online, anyone can see, family, friends and even not-so-friendly people.”
“This joint effort with the Department of Justice and the Ad Council directly responds to one of the most pressing issues of online safety,” stated Mr. Allen. “Recent studies show that an increased percentage of youth Internet users are posting personal information and photos online. We believe this PSA campaign will fill the vital roll of arming teenagers and their families with the resources and knowledge to avoid the risks associated with that behavior.”
Popular social networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook, and Sconex make it easier for teens to post and share personal information, pictures, and videos, which may make them more vulnerable to online predators. Teenage girls are particularly at risk of online sexual exploitation. A recent study by University of New Hampshire researchers for NCMEC found that of the approximately one in seven youth who received a sexual solicitation or approach over the Internet, 70 percent were girls.
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that works in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. NCMEC’s congressionally mandated CyberTipline, a reporting mechanism for child sexual exploitation, has handled more than 419,400 leads. Since its establishment in 1984, NCMEC has assisted law enforcement with more than 125,200 missing child cases, resulting in the recovery of more than 107,600 children. For more information about NCMEC, call its toll-free, 24-hour hotline at 1-800-THE-LOST or visit its web site at www.missingkids.com.
For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit http://www.projectsafechildhood.gov. For more information about the Think Before You Post campaign, please visit http://www.cybertipline.com.