CHICAGO – Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales today joined U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald of the Northern District of Illinois and Ernie Allen, president and CEO of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, 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 the Northern District of Illinois. 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. “The Department of Justice, along with federal, state and local law enforcement, as well as community leaders, remains committed to bringing sexual predators to justice, while educating communities about how to prevent these crimes.”
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. Attorneys 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. In 2006, the Department of Justice prosecuted 1,543 cases involving the sexual exploitation or abuse of children.
In a case announced in Chicago last year, 27 defendants were charged as a result of an international undercover investigation that infiltrated an Internet chat room where some defendants allegedly transmitted live sexual molestations of minors. In a separate case last year, a LaSalle County, Ill., man was sentenced to serve 100 years in prison for manufacturing child pornography involving three minors and other sexual exploitation crimes. Other recent federal prosecutions include convictions for interstate travel to engage in sexual activity with a minor, enticement of a minor to engage in sexual activity, sexual exploitation of a minor, and offenses related to child pornography. Defendants in these cases have received sentences as high as 25 and 30 years in prison. “We are pleased that the investigative expertise of law enforcement agencies across northern Illinois has allowed us to prosecute cases that have disrupted international networks of online predators, dismantled child pornography rings, and removed children from situations of danger,” said U.S. Attorney Fitzgerald. “We are dismayed, however, that we face an ever-growing challenge to protect children from sexual exploitation. We will continue to work alongside our state, local and federal partners to safeguard children from becoming victims and to punish and deter criminal exploitation of minors.”
Project Safe Childhood partners for the Northern District of Illinois include the Illinois Attorney General’s Office; the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement; the FBI; the U.S. Postal Inspection Service; the U.S. Marshals Service; the U.S. Secret Service; the Cook County Sheriff’s Department; the Chicago Police Department; the Illinois State Police; the State’s Attorney’s Offices in Du Page, Grundy, Kane, Kendall, La Salle, Lake, Lee, Stephenson and Will Counties; and the Naperville Police Department, together with numerous local police and county sheriff’s departments across the 18-county Northern District of Northern Illinois.
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 http://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.