Thank you, Bob [Listenbee], for that kind introduction; for everything that you and your colleagues have done to make this important event possible; and of course, for your dedicated leadership of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. It is a privilege to join you in welcoming so many distinguished guests to the Department of Justice this afternoon – as we recognize the achievements and the many contributions, of today’s award recipients.
I’d also like to acknowledge John Ryan for his critical work as president and CEO of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. I want to express my deep gratitude to Holly Austin Smith for joining us today and for her steadfast commitment to children’s safety, born of her own personal experience as a survivor and her courage to share her story with others.
Finally, I’d like to thank all of you. Many of the people in this Great Hall work tirelessly every day on behalf of missing children. Some of you have experienced personal tragedy in your own lives – pain which the heart cannot forget, but which, over time, transforms itself into thecommitment to help others through the midnight of their own despair, and in so doing, you provide hope that there can be healing when the morning comes.
Like the seven remarkable individuals we honor today, aggressively pursuing child exploitation in all of its manifestations is, for my colleagues and me, among the most important and significant work we do.
Over the last 30 years, the Justice Department has built a productive collaboration with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children to help bring victims home. Through OJJDP, we’re supporting a range of state, community, and tribal-level initiatives focused on child protection and recovery.
And over the years, the Justice Department has launched a variety of innovative programs that have transformed our response to cases involving missing children. From the Federal Agency Task Force on Missing and Exploited Children and the AMBER Alert system, which has returned 688 abducted children to their homes; to the array of efforts we've instituted to reach the more than 100,000 children who are victims of human trafficking each year, our commitment to finding missing children, reuniting them with their loved ones, and bringing those to justice who would do harm to a child -- that resolve remains stronger than ever.
Early in my legal career, when I was a criminal Assistant United States Attorney, I prosecuted a large and difficult case called the Orchid Club: a child sexual exploitation case involving thirteen defendants spread across four different countries including the United States in what was then, I was told, the largest internet child exploitation case in history.
It was 1996, in the early days of the commercial internet, and the men I prosecuted used secret, password-protected internet chatrooms to trade, produce and distribute illicit images of children -- kids they coached as swim instructors, children of adult friends they knew, or children entrusted to their care.
And that case changed me as a prosecutor, as a public servant, and as a man: dealing with the anguish of the families whose children were victims -- the guilt and anger they felt; the inspiration I drew from working closely with some of the most dedicated, persistent and innovative agents and victim-witness specialists I’ve ever known; the strength I received from the children themselves – kids whose hand-drawn pictures of horses and butterflies and rainbows ended up decorating the walls of my office at work; children whose resilience taught me life lessons in hope and healing.
That is why it is both humbling and a privilege to join you today as we honor seven heroes; individuals who exemplify the truth that no one stands taller than when stooping to help a child.
The work of these honorees in rescuing missing and exploited children – and in bringing perpetrators of these heinous crimes to justice – is exceptional. It takes very special people to perform such difficult – and in many cases heart-wrenching and life-changing – duties.
And on behalf of the entire Department of Justice, we are proud stand with you, to work alongside you, and to honor you today for your service and dedication to our nation's children.