WASHINGTON – Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales today announced the beginning of the nationwide implementation of Project Safe Childhood (PSC), a Department of Justice initiative designed to protect children from online exploitation and abuse.
As technology advances and as the Internet becomes more accessible, the number of computer-facilitated sexual exploitation crimes committed against children – including child pornography offenses and enticement crimes – is expected to continue to grow. Introduced in February 2006, the goal of Project Safe Childhood is to enhance the national response to this growing threat to America’s youth.
"We are in the midst of an epidemic of sexual abuse and exploitation of our children," said Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. "Project Safe Childhood will help law enforcement and community leaders prevent, investigate, and prosecute sexual predators and pornographers who target our children and grandchildren."
In remarks made at a press conference today, the Attorney General announced the key first steps of the PSC initiative. These steps include that within two weeks, every United States Attorney will designate a PSC Coordinator, and begin to meet with local partners in developing a plan for his or her district. As part of the initiative, the Attorney General asked U.S. Attorneys to develop these localized plans for implementation of PSC within 90 days after naming a PSC Coordinator. The steps to implementing PSC were explained in more detail in an official Project Safe Childhood guide, released by the Department of Justice in conjunction with the Attorney General’s announcement.
A critical element of PSC is for U.S. Attorneys to partner with the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) task forces, a national network of 46 regional task forces funded by the Department’s Office of Justice Programs. The ICAC task forces have been protecting America’s children since 1998. This year, the Department of Justice will award more than $14 million to the ICAC program in conjunction with PSC. In addition to the ICAC task forces, U.S. Attorneys will partner with their federal investigative counterparts, other state and local law enforcement officials in their districts, and community partners in the districts. In developing these partnerships and in fashioning strategic plans in consultation with their partners, U.S. Attorneys will address the five core elements of the PSC initiative:
Greater integration of law enforcement efforts. Federal, state, and local law enforcement officials have to be more coordinated in investigating and prosecuting child exploitation cases, and in identifying and rescuing victims.
Local execution of leads from national operations. There are several ongoing national investigations and programs—investigative leads and victim-identification leads from the National Center for Missing and Exploitation Children (NCMEC), and nationwide investigations of distribution mechanisms such as file servers or websites conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and others, and coordinated by the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section. Local Project Safe Childhood partnerships are ideally situated to pursue the local leads that are generated from these national operations.
Increased federal involvement in child pornography and enticement cases. Given the beneficial investigative tools and the stiffer penalties oftentimes available under federal law, U.S. Attorneys and the federal investigative agencies will be expected to increase the number of child sexual exploitation investigations and prosecutions. The goal is to ensure the worst offenders get the maximum amount of jail time possible.
Training of federal, state, and local law enforcement. A primary goal of Project Safe Childhood is to substantially increased the number of officers and prosecutors who are properly trained to investigate and prosecute computer-facilitated crimes against children. Members of the Project Safe Childhood partnerships will therefore attend training programs facilitated by NCMEC, the ICAC program, and other ongoing programs.
Community awareness and educational programs. Project Safe Childhood will partner with existing national public awareness and educational programs that exist through NCMEC and the ICAC program, as well as other federal, state, and local prevention programs, in order to raise national awareness about the threat of online sexual predators and child pornographers, and to provide the tools and information to parents and youngsters seeking to use the Internet responsibly or to report possible violations.