Good morning. I want to join Laura Rogers in thanking all of you for participating in this conference. I hope it is providing you with some of the tools you need to keep America’s children safe.
I also want to thank you for what you already do, day in and day out, to protect our kids. It’s so important, and it can be so difficult.
I’m proud of the focus and structure that Project Safe Childhood has lent to a national effort to protect children, but I’m cognizant of the fact that a campaign of any type is nothing without its cavalry – those who investigate and prosecute, counsel and comfort.
That’s you. Your work makes you heroes to moms and dads and boys and girls who you’ll never even meet.
My hope is actually that prevention efforts will mean that those of us in law enforcement meet fewer and fewer young victims of these terrible crimes.
My hope is that none of us ever have to attend the funeral of a child victim.
And my promise to this group, and to the parents of America, is that I will not rest until this nation is better able to shield our children from crimes that shatter the soul, from the kinds of violent acts that hurt forever.
The management of sex offenders is an important part of a broader strategy of justice and prevention of crimes against children.
Prevention starts with public awareness: making sure that kids and their parents, teachers and community leaders, understand the threat and know how to guard against it.
I’m proud of the work the Department has done with the Ad Council and NCMEC to promote awareness among teenage girls, for example. The ad campaign is called “Think Before You Post” and it aims to educate teenage girls about the risk of online predators. The more these girls know about the threat, the more likely they will be to take steps to protect themselves by being careful about what they choose to share online.
I’ve also encouraged everyone who cares about and works on these issues to “go public.” To talk about this issue openly and often. I encourage you all to speak in raw, frank terms, and don’t let your audience turn away. People need to know, for example, that children are being violated for profit – that the Internet has enabled child rape and molestation to become an industry. It has created a marketplace where images of crime scenes are bought, sold and traded every day. It is our duty to bring that industry down, to bring its purveyors to justice.
We should all be talking to parents, teachers and other community groups as often as we can. We should be learning from our partners and sharing what we learn with our communities. We should be teaching them about what is going on online, as well as how to recognize trends and signs of abuse, and how to take action if they suspect that a child is being abused.
This message needs to be heard at the local Chamber of Commerce meeting as much as it does at the school board meeting. Because every adult is responsible for protecting the next generation of children. And we can’t succeed in protecting them unless we are constantly working on awareness and prevention.
Just as important are the brass tacks of law enforcement: catching these criminals and getting them off the streets, out of our neighborhoods.
That’s why I’m proud that Project Safe Childhood is providing training for over 1,000 state and local law enforcement officers, along with federal law enforcement and prosecutors, to help achieve this goal of effective investigations and prosecutions.
We’re asking that prosecutors be aggressive in the cases they bring, and our training programs are designed to help them do just that.
Once we get them off the streets, we need to keep them off the streets for as long as possible.
We must seek stiff penalties for these criminals. This may include encouraging your state legislature to change your state laws. Although many of these cases are properly brought by state and local authorities, we are committed, where necessary to achieve longer prison sentences, to prosecuting these matters on the federal level as well.
I have encouraged the U.S. Attorney community to cooperate with your prosecutors to make sure this happens.
Because working together does work.
The next piece of this strategy to protect children is the subject of this conference, and it brings us back to the beginning: prevention.
What can we do to ensure that released sex offenders do not touch children ever again? We in law enforcement focus, as we should, on putting these predators behind bars for as long as we can. We are not, however, blind to the fact that after their time, they will return to our communities where, as history shows, some will continue their predatory behavior. As all of you know, dealing with this problem is a terribly difficult and complicated question.
But if you are like me, your gut shouts the simplest of answers:
“Whatever it takes.”
Because these crimes – in human terms, in our desire for justice and prevention – I believe are second only to murder.
When a killer is sent to jail, we say to ourselves: “never again.”
When we talk of protecting this nation from terrorist attacks, we think of 9/11 and we say, out loud, “never again.”
And when we think of a child molester re-entering society, when we think about what they have done to children … we hold our little ones close and we say, louder still, “never again.”
As a nation, we are in the early stages of figuring out just how we can achieve, how we can somehow guarantee, that goal of “never again.”
The probation and parole officers here at this conference are on the front lines as we all search for these answers. I know you are doing everything you can, under law, to protect children, and you will continue to be the lead experts on this complicated issue.
I hope that the Department’s proposed National Guidelines for Sex Offender Registration and Notification are part of the answer, and I hope to receive your input on those guidelines. These Guidelines aim to create a system where there is no corner of our country in which a sex offender can go without the local community being aware of it--and by being aware, being able to protect its kids.
Please give us feedback on the guidelines if you haven’t already. Your expertise can help us make the guidelines the best that they can be, and as strong as they must be.
But completion of those guidelines, we all know, will not be enough.
The national dialogue on this issue will not, and must not, end there.
I will remain dedicated to using the power of my office to help you to find the right answers, and I promise that good ideas that are brought to my attention will be shared; this is the unique ability, and indeed the responsibility, of the federal government.
I hope you are encouraged and energized by the fellowship you have found at this meeting. That you are motivated by the knowledge that people all over this great nation, like you, are working hard to shield our kids from those who hunt them, to achieve a day where “never again” is a truth instead of a hope.
May God bless and guide your important work, and may he continue to bless this great nation. Thank you.