Good morning. Welcome to our presentation of this year’s National Missing Children’s Day awards. We have been marking this day for 25 years now.
I wish we lived in a world without awards like these—a world without abductions, or sexual exploitation of children; a world without the heartbreak or tears when a brother or sister, or son or daughter, goes missing.
But we don’t yet live in that world. Everyone here knows far too well that our kids are in danger—that far too many childhoods have been stolen. The awards we hand out today are to thank those who fight against, and try to address, that sad reality. Your work truly is God’s work. Every faith that I know of holds childhood to be precious, and regards attacks on innocence to be evil. Thank you for being there when our kids are hurting.
Today’s recognition of this good work is joined with a special focus on the siblings of missing children. I am delighted to announce the release of a new Guide, entitled “What About Me?” It recognizes the trauma of having a brother or sister suddenly gone.
My wife Rebecca and I have two young sons at home. They’re normal brothers—they tease, they play, they sometimes pretend to have had it with each other. But they love each other and expect to have many, many years to keep on being brothers.
Just the thought of one of those boys being taken from us is almost too much for Rebecca and me. We can instinctively identify with the terror felt by parents of kids who go missing. Just imagining being in the shoes of the parents of Tamara Brooks—a young woman who was rescued, and is playing a big role in today’s event—or, worse, in the shoes of Mark Lunsford, whose precious daughter did not make it home to him—it’s enough, quite frankly, to overwhelm me with grief.
But if, God forbid, something happened to one of my boys, the one still with us would suffer at least as much, to have his brother ripped away, as my wife and I would.
Without forgetting that the most important thing is to get the missing child back, this Guide helps us remember the young child experiencing the awful loss of a sibling. It’s easy to overlook that kid. In the panic of the moment, all eyes seem to be searching for the missing child. And they should be—but parents and friends must also be strong enough to comfort the frightened children who remain at home, confused, and whose fear is as great as anyone else’s.
The Guide reminds us that a sibling’s sense of loss when a brother or sister is not quickly recovered is just as great—and that their whole world is turned upside down.
Think of the trauma of learning, perhaps for the first time, that the world isn’t the safe place children so naturally assume it to be. Except for being the abducted child, what is a more awful way to be introduced to these harsh realities than to have a sibling—a playmate, a friend, a confidante—suddenly taken?
How do the siblings feel about what has happened? Who is explaining the situation to them? Who knows how to comfort such a child? How is she supposed to react to having the media surrounding her home immediately after a disappearance?
The Guide we are releasing today answers those questions. We know that it will hit the mark—because it was written by kids who have already suffered this way. They are here with us today. I want to acknowledge their courage—their compassion for other kids. They know what it feels like. They know the emotions that well up. They know what questions need to be answered.
And they’ve poured these experiences out to help other children. In a sense, they are extending a hand, so that other kids who walk that long, hard road, will at least know that they are not alone—that others have felt the way they feel.
I am proud that the Department of Justice could help produce and distribute this fine work.
But I know that everyone here agrees with me that there’s no better way to care for siblings than to stop them from being separated in the first place.
This is, in effect, the goal of Project Safe Childhood. That initiative, marshaling the efforts of federal, State, and local law enforcement, and working with non-profits like the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, aims to create a country where no child will be victimized—and no brother will experience the agony of not knowing where his sister is, where no sister will have to worry about who has taken her brother.
Project Safe Childhood turned 1-year-old yesterday. And yesterday, on that anniversary, the Department took two steps to make it a little harder for evildoers to hurt our kids.
First, we released proposed National Guidelines for Sex Offender Registration and Notification. Congress directed us to provide guidance when it passed the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006. These Guidelines spell out national minimum standards. They will assist the States, territories, Indian tribes, the District of Columbia, and the Federal government in working together to ensure that we know where sex offenders are located, so we can stop them from harming any more children.
Too many kids have gone missing at the hands of people who had already offended. Too many parents and brothers and sisters could have been spared their losses if we had kept better track of sex offenders in the first place.
Amanda Brown, for example, was a 7-year-old Florida girl who was abducted in 1998. The man convicted of—and sentenced to death for—her kidnapping and murder was a sex offender, who had previously been convicted of raping five girls.
Amanda’s case isn’t unique. We’ve all seen the sickening pattern—a previously convicted sex offender striking again—so many times. For Amanda, and her family, and the many others who have suffered as they have—we owe them at least this much: We will do all we can to make sure that these sex offenders can’t quietly take any more kids.
The proposed Guidelines are comprehensive. They describe when sex offenders need to register, the kinds of information they must provide, and for how long they need to update their information. Among many other things, we will for the first time require sex offenders to register their e-mail and Internet messaging addresses. No longer will parents be powerless to determine if their children are being haunted online by sex offenders. If sex offenders register, we can protect kids from them; and if sex offenders don’t register, they’re guilty of a crime, for which we will punish them. Kids will be safer.
I hope that all interested parties will carefully review these proposed Guidelines and give us feedback.
The second thing we did yesterday was to announce that $25 million is available to assist States, territories, the District of Columbia, tribal, and local governments to implement the Adam Walsh Act and to comply with the proposed Guidelines. Jurisdictions will be able to use funds to more effectively monitor and hold accountable sex offenders. The Department is not satisfied to simply provide guidance—we are determined to partner with governments across the Nation to enforce these standards. That’s how, together, we protect our children.
Today’s award recipients are remarkable people who have already demonstrated their commitment to being part of this battle. I am proud to have you here at the Department of Justice. And I want you each to know that I am personally grateful for your efforts, humbled by your courage, and committed to fighting at your side.
Thank you, and God bless you, and may God especially bless the children of the United States.