Thank you, Mary Lou, for that kind introduction. It’s my privilege – and honor – to welcome all of you to the Department of Justice, and to join Mary Lou and Bob in recognizing these extraordinary award recipients.
If I may, I’d like to take this opportunity to publicly congratulate Bob on his appointment to lead the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Bob comes to the Department with a stellar reputation in the juvenile justice field. His outstanding work as co-chair of the Attorney General’s National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence is a testament to the kind of visionary leadership we can expect of him in the months and years ahead. Welcome aboard, Bob.
I also want to thank Melodee Hanes for the terrific job she has done leading OJJDP in the period leading up to Bob’s appointment. Mel, we’re grateful for your stewardship.
Of course, I want to thank my friend, Mary Lou, for all she does as head of the Office of Justice Programs to support children and youth. And I want to welcome our special guests, John Ryan and Heather Bish, and acknowledge their leadership and advocacy on behalf of missing children. I’m very glad both of you could join us today.
I’m pleased to be here today to honor these nine individuals for their efforts to find and rescue missing and exploited children and bring perpetrators to justice. Early in my law career, I prosecuted child exploitation cases as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Northern District of California, and those cases, those children’s stories, have stayed with me throughout my career. I know that these cases require tenacity, ingenuity, and optimism, and today’s honorees have these qualities in abundance. Days, weeks, months, and as we saw in Cleveland last week, even years can pass between a child’s disappearance and her recovery. It takes tremendous faith, but more importantly, it takes incredible resolve and resourcefulness to pursue those cases to certain resolution. We are grateful for all that you do.
I’m proud that the Department of Justice has been your partner in this work. Under the leadership of an Attorney General who cares deeply about the safety of our children, we have aggressively pursued child exploitation cases, we’ve worked closely with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children to help bring missing children home, and – through OJJDP – we’ve supported states, communities, and tribes in their child protection and recovery efforts.
Our progress is measurable, and it’s remarkable. Last year, investigations initiated by the 61 Internet Crimes Against Children task forces led to more than 6,200 arrests and forensic exams of more than 51,000 computers. The AMBER Alert program, which we are proud to support, now has returned 642 abducted children to their homes, while the AMBER secondary distribution network continues to expand. We’re supporting an array of programs to reach the more than 100,000 children who are victims of sex trafficking each year. And more than a decade after the last comprehensive study of missing, abducted, runaway, and thrown away children, we’re now engaged in a new national effort to collect data on these victimized and vulnerable populations.
We’re also working hard to reduce children’s exposure to violence. Under our Defending Childhood Initiative, led by OJJDP and OJP, we’re supporting evidence-based interventions for these children, expanding our base of knowledge on the subject, and developing a wide-ranging strategy based on recommendations from the Attorney General’s Task Force.
Our commitment to children – and to finding missing children – is stronger than ever. But I’m well aware that the Department of Justice is not alone in this work. We have dedicated allies in communities across America – men and women doing heroic things to bring our kids home. And I know that, by continuing to work together, we will accomplish even greater things in the years ahead.
On behalf of the Attorney General, and the entire Department of Justice, thank you for everything you do because – as has been said before – no one stands taller than one who stoops to help a child.