Good morning, it is a pleasure to join you today. As you know better than anyone else, our Internet Crimes Against Children Task Forces, are truly the front line fighters in the battle against child exploitation. The Department of Justice has supported the ICAC task force program now for more than a decade and that investment remains a high priority. The program has grown to 61 task forces in the last 12 years, with more than 3,000 agencies represented.
Since the ICAC task force program began, more than 180,000 complaints of child exploitation have been investigated, more than 20,000 suspects have been arrested, and thousands of children have been rescued. These numbers represent an enormous accomplishment, and on behalf of the Department of Justice, I thank you and congratulate you for all your hard work in protecting one of our Nation’s most precious assets: our children.
As the trends show, we need to build on that progress because the exploitation of children in this country and around the world continues to grow. As the front-line fighters, you confront that disturbing trend every day. As we gather for this national conference, the Department of Justice is in the final stages of formulating the first-ever National Strategy for Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction. We will be submitting this plan to Congress in the near future.
This national strategy contains three key components: first, a recent assessment of the threat that our children face from child exploitation; second, an overview of the multitude of state, federal, local, and non-profit organizations which are working to combat the problem of child exploitation; and third, an outline of some goals and proposed steps the Department will take, including continued support of you, our ICAC partners, along with a strong emphasis on coordination with all of our state, local, federal, tribal, and international partners.
I want to take the next few moments to briefly discuss the threats facing our children and, then outline the primary goal of the national strategy, coordination, and to discuss some of the Department’s plans to help further our cooperative efforts.
Crimes against children are particularly vile. The threat to our children is real and with the advent and increasing sophistication of the Internet, the threat is evolving as much as it is expanding. It is not a surprise to anyone in this room that assessing the threat posed by child exploitation is difficult. But in order to address the situation, we must try to better understand the dangers.
For that reason, the PROTECT Our Children Act of 2008 required the Department of Justice to conduct a threat assessment of the risks posed to children by child exploitation. The National Drug Intelligence Center (“NDIC”) invested more than a year of its time and interviewed more than 100 child exploitation prosecutors, investigators, and experts in the field, and reviewed thousands of pages of documents from investigations, criminal cases, research studies, and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children to compile the assessment.
Research indicates that there has been a significant increase in the proliferation of child pornography, driven in large part by an enormous financial incentive for peddlers of these abhorrent images. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s Child Victim Identification Program has seen a 432 percent increase in child pornography movies and files submitted for identification of the children depicted between 2005 and 2009. It is estimated that more than 200 new images are circulated daily and the profit derived from these criminal acts could be as high as $20 billion annually.
Like child pornography, the enticement of our children over the Internet is a serious threat. Offenders are using networks of like-minded deviants to share strategies, lurk in chat rooms, social networking or gaming sites where children commonly gather. One recent, tragic, example of such enticement happened in England. Ashleigh Hall was 17-years-old when she died. Ashleigh was in her final year of a child care course at a local college and was aiming for a career as a nursery nurse.
Ashleigh met someone she thought was a 19-year-old on a social networking site. After “chatting” with him online, one night Ashleigh told her mother she was going to sleep at a friend’s house. Instead, she arranged a meeting with, who she thought, was a teenage boy. Within hours of finally agreeing to meet in person, Ashleigh was kidnapped, raped, and murdered, allegedly by the 33-year-old man who was the actual person she had connected with on the Internet.
Tragically, this is one of hundreds of heartbreaking stories. The United Nations released a report in July 2009 estimating that there are approximately 750,000 sexual predators using the Internet to try to make contact with children for the purpose of sexually exploiting them. Ashleigh’s death underscores the dangers online enticers pose to our children and reminds us that we must work together to educate our children on the risks they face from those they meet on the Internet.
Ensuring our children are aware of this hidden danger and know how to keep themselves safe is as crucial to our fight as is strong law enforcement efforts.
This is but one of the dangers to our children. Some also face the threat of being victimized by commercial sexual exploitation. Runaways, throwaways, sexual assault victims, and neglected children can be recruited into a violent life of forced prostitution.
The numbers are staggering. Between 2004 through 2008, ICAC Task Forces saw a 914 percent increase in the number of child victims of prostitution complaints processed by their members. The basis of this increase is unknown – making this more of a challenge to confront effectively. It could be, in part, that more people are starting to register the complaints, but it also may represent and increasing trend in activity. We know that some criminals have turned away from illicit activities such as drug dealing and robbery toward child sex trafficking because it’s more profitable -- these traffickers can make up to several thousand dollars a day as a single child can generate as much as $1,000 on a weekend night.
Understanding all of these dangers, we must also keep in mind that it is not just our own children who are at risk. The child sex tourism industry continues to thrive. Child sex tourists prey on the most vulnerable children in the most impoverished areas of the world.
Ultimately, whatever form of child exploitation we discuss, whether it is child pornography, the enticement of children by online predators, or the trafficking of children for sex trafficking – a central theme seems to emerge - child exploitation is a global problem that spans borders and requires a global response. Coordination and marshalling all of our collective efforts will be necessary to attack these criminals and stop the devastation that they will otherwise wreak.
As we consider how to attack this problem going forward, we must continue to work together, and help lead others to join us in the fight. Through leadership and coordination with our international allies, with our federal, state, local, and tribal partners, with NGOs, child advocacy centers, victim service providers, educators, and industry we will leave the criminals no place to hide. Further, through coordination we can devise strategies to combat this war and rescue these victims.
The Department of Justice is committed to continuing to fight with you against the sexual exploitation of children on all fronts, including prevention, deterrence, and interdiction. While law enforcement remains a very important strategy, we also recognize that we can not simply prosecute our way out of this problem. On the law enforcement side, we must ensure that we have expertly trained investigators and prosecutors.
However, the solution to child exploitation must include prevention through public awareness and education campaigns. It must also include deterrence using tools like sex offender monitoring. And, law enforcement must have the technological tools you need to investigate these crimes. Let me share with you some of the activities that the Department is taking to help on each of these fronts.
A National Database
One of the key tools for this fight is the development of a national database. Case deconfliction, information sharing, technological capability, and intelligence are critical components in staying one step ahead of those who would prey on our children. The PROTECT Act requires the creation of national database that addresses these needs. The Department is working closely with the ICACs and others to design and build an Internet Crimes Against Children Data System that will support our efforts and result in a smarter more effective response. This system will provide meaningful deconfliction among federal, state, local, tribal, and even some international partners who investigate child exploitation. It will also allow all of you to launch undercover operations, share information, and provide and access data that will give us all critical information to apprehend those who exploit the most vulnerable among us. This system is in the early stages, but we are hard at work on it, and will launch it as soon as we can. We recently reached out to all of the ICACs to solicit your input, and encourage you to continue to provide us with your observations, insights and recommendations as we develop a database that will aid you and our federal and international partners. This is a significant and expensive undertaking but one that is necessary.
The Expansion of the Innocence Lost Initiative
The Department is also exploring the expansion of the Innocence Lost Initiative into other cities. As you know, the program targets child prostitution and has shown remarkable success. Since 2003, these task forces and working groups have been responsible for recovering more than 900 children victimized by pimps, madams, and those who pay to sexually assault them. More than 500 pimps, madams, and their associates have been prosecuted in state and federal court under this Initiative. Some have received well deserved life sentences for their crimes.
The program already has 38 tasks forces throughout the country and we would like to expand that number and explore further coordination between ICAC task forces, both of which are staffed by largely local investigators with a wealth of experience in investigating crimes against children.
National Sex Offender Registry
One of the Department’s short-term goals is to have the U.S. Marshals Service stand up a fully operational National Sex Offender Tracking Center to better track and apprehend fugitive sex offenders. The Center is already online and the Marshals are working to fully staff the Center with analysts and other professionals in the near future.
In conjunction with the Targeting Center, the Marshals will develop their behavioral analysis capabilities, to aid in developing research that will assist their tracking and apprehension missions. Of course, the Marshals Service will continue to aggressively pursue and apprehend fugitive sex offenders and enforce all aspects of the sex offender registries in fulfillment of their Adam Walsh Act obligations. In Fiscal Year 2009 alone, the Marshals arrested more than 10,000 fugitives wanted for failing to register and/or actual sex offenses, and conducted thousands of compliance checks. The Marshalls intend to build on this record of success.
A National Coordinator
Finally, to help bring all of the pieces together and to further the coordination efforts, the Department has appointed Francey Hakes, the National Coordinator for Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction. She is an experienced federal prosecutor who previously worked closely with the ICAC in her home state of Georgia, has personally prosecuted numerous cases of child pornography and exploitation, and she is eager to work with you and our other partners to increase overall coordination of our efforts. If you haven’t had a chance yet, I encourage you to reach out to her.
Finally, in emphasizing coordination, I want to thank the dedicated professionals at the Office of Justice Programs, and the Office of Juvenile Justice Programs, in particular. Mary Lou, thank you to you and your staff for their hard work and incredible dedication on this important issue. Without ensuring that the much-needed funding and training is provided for the ICAC Task Forces, none of us would be here today.
This is critically important work. It is difficult work. What you are doing matters and I want to thank you all for the battle you fight every day on behalf of our children. We must act together as a nation to protect our children, and children worldwide, and the ICAC program does just that by bringing thousands of federal, state, and local investigators and prosecutors together to share information, investigate cases, conduct training, and develop law enforcement technologies and techniques to interdict child exploitation. By increasing our cooperation and coordination we will increase our ability to rescue victimized children, arrest those who abuse them, and, hopefully, prevent other children from ever facing the threat of sexual exploitation.
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Now, it is my pleasure to introduce the Attorney General of the United States, Eric Holder. The Attorney General regrets that he could not be here in person but I can assure you he, along with the rest of the Department leadership, is fully committed to the ICAC Task Force program, and to vigorously pursuing those who prey on our children. He has prepared some remarks that we will see now via video. Thank you.