Department of Justice Seal

Remarks Prepared for Delivery by Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey at the Project Safe Childhood National Conference

Columbus, Ohio
Tuesday, September 23, 2008 - 9:00 Am.M. EDT

Good morning. Thank you, Ernie, for that introduction, and for the extraordinary work you and your colleagues do at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. As some of you may know, Ernie’s center, known as NCMEC for short, was one of the first places I visited as Attorney General. I saw their Wall of Recent Recoveries; a wall filled with the success stories of children found and cases solved. Of all the monuments and memorials I've seen in Washington – and I’ve now seen a lot of them – that wall is one of the most uplifting monuments I've come across. It is a powerful reminder of what this work is all about.

Thanks also to all of you, for taking the time to come to this conference and for the work you do to advance the mission of Project Safe Childhood. The mission of Project Safe Childhood is, simply put: to protect children from online exploitation and abuse. It is simple to describe our mission. It is not simple to accomplish it; it takes a lot of collaboration and a lot of hard work.

That work is at the same time some of the most grueling, and some of the most rewarding, an investigator or a prosecutor can do. There are few challenges that we in law enforcement take on where it can so clearly be said that we are fighting on the side of the angels. And unfortunately few that at times can make us feel so helpless.

In days past, when parents thought about threats to their children's safety, they feared what might happen on the walk home from school, or at the playground. But home is no longer the sanctuary that it used to be. By simply logging on to the Internet, children open themselves to new and hidden threats. The online game or chat room parents see as an entertaining diversion for their kids after homework, might actually be a hiding place for adult pedophiles. E-mail can be turned into a tool of deceit and abduction.

Regrettably, there are still many people who fail to grasp the seriousness of these crimes. Many people fail to realize how widespread crimes against our children are, or even how damaging those crimes are to their young victims. And there are far too many misconceptions about what kind of person commits these crimes. A diligent parent cannot prevent these sorts of crimes by merely keeping an eye out for the person who looks out of place or acts a bit strange.

Consider the case of a man from Oregon, who struck up an online friendship with a young girl and, after e-mailing explicit photos of himself, tried to arrange a meeting with her. Fortunately, the person he thought was a young girl was really an FBI agent and when the man went to what he thought was his meeting with the girl, he was arrested, prosecuted, and sent to prison.

From all appearances, that man lived a normal life. He was an attorney. He had strong ties to his community. He was married. And he had two small children and a third on the way when he was arrested. Many people would consider someone like him to be above suspicion. But child predators can live anywhere, can be anyone. The only thing they have in common is the danger they pose to our children.

Added to this ambiguity is the apparent anonymity provided by the Internet. There’s a famous cartoon from The New Yorker magazine several years ago picturing two dogs sitting at a computer, with one saying to the other: "On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog." It’s a funny cartoon, but it also illustrates a dangerous reality. On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a child predator either.

It is these challenges, as well as what is at stake, that can sometimes make us feel helpless in this work. But we are not helpless. The work of the Department and the work of you – our partners at the state and local level, especially the Internet Crimes Against Children, or "ICAC," Task Forces, and our partners in the non-profit sector – are powerful reminders that there is much we can do.

In my time as Attorney General, I've said as often as I can that the Justice Department's approach to fighting crime has to be built on partnerships with state and local authorities. Perhaps nowhere is such a cooperative approach more important than in Project Safe Childhood, which relies on partnerships with state and local law enforcement officers to get child predators off our streets and off the Internet. It’s not about who gets the credit – there’s plenty of that to go around. Moreover, some things in life are more important than that. And the protection of our children is surely one of those things.

The results of our collaboration speak for themselves. In fiscal year 2007, our U.S. Attorneys' offices filed more than 2,100 Project Safe Childhood indictments, a 28 percent increase over the year before. And in 2008, we kept up that momentum, bringing even more cases. Over that same two-year period, the Justice Department’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section worked with the FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Postal Inspection Service to coordinate six large-scale national operations that yielded over 7,000 subjects in the United States – many of whom were prosecuted by federal, state and local jurisdictions.

We're not pausing to rest, though, because even one exploited or abused child is one too many. Earlier this year, we announced 43 new Assistant U.S. Attorney positions across the country. These additional resources will help the Department to bring more of these cases, and as a result, to keep child predators away from our children. And today, I’m pleased to announce the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding among federal law enforcement to share criminal intelligence on child predators. With this memorandum, which covers the FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the U.S. Marshals Service, we will build on the Regional Information Sharing System network, and the collaboration and online training it's already got in place.

To give additional heft to this agreement, the Department is awarding $800,000 to further support information-sharing among all levels of law enforcement – with the ICAC task forces leading the way. These funds are part of more than $17 million that we are providing to state and local law enforcement agencies in support of their work with ICAC task forces.

Our goal is to weave more tightly the web of enforcement to detect and respond to these crimes. The Internet child predator does not stand on the street corner like a drug dealer. He can't be chased down by a cop on the beat. Catching him requires sophisticated tools, technical know-how, and the partnership and expertise of law enforcement at all levels and of specialists like the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

We must make sure that every partner, every police department, no matter how large or small, knows how to handle these crimes. They should have training, and some level of comfort, with handling computer evidence. They should know whom to call for help if they don't have an expert on hand.

For ten years, the ICAC task forces have built state and local capacity to investigate these crimes. My urgent request to all of you here today is to keep going. Share your know-how, share your experience, share what has worked and what hasn’t worked with your colleagues, so that our web can be seamless.

Law enforcement is vital in this fight, but we must also devote resources to prevention. It is far better to keep children from ever becoming victims in the first place than to rescue them after they’ve been taken or abused. We need to teach our children how to keep themselves safe on the Internet. And we need to remind parents of the need to supervise what their children do and see online.

That requires long-term relationships with schools, churches, and community groups. And it requires patience. If children were easily convinced to listen to their parents, parenting would be easy. They're not, and it's not. But just because a problem can't be solved easily or overnight doesn’t mean that it can’t be solved. And difficulty is no excuse for not trying.

The Department has been trying – and those efforts have been paying off. For example, the Department sponsors several programs to help educate parents about how to keep their kids safe on the Internet. In partnership with the Ad Council and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and thanks to tens of millions of dollars of donated air time, we launched the highly successful "Think Before You Post" public service announcements. With additional partners, we are now working on a new set of commercials that we'll be releasing in a couple of months. Today, I'd like to offer you a sneak peak at a couple of them.

The first ad you’re going see is targeted at potential offenders, as a warning not to download sexual images of children or to attempt to entice a minor. The second ad aims to remind parents about the dangers children face online and the need for supervision. It will run in Spanish – although we’ve added subtitles for your convenience here today.

We're confident that, like our previous campaigns, these ads will spread our message and that they’ll help keep our children safe. I compliment – and thank – all of our partners who have helped put them together.

Project Safe Childhood could not address a more compelling issue: the need to keep our children safe and secure. We created the program two years ago in response to a true public safety threat. We will never be satisfied as long as any of our children remain in danger, but our efforts are succeeding. With your help, we are getting child predators off our streets and off the Internet.

The kind of success we've had does not happen by accident. It happens because law enforcement and others, at all levels, are talking with each other and working in cooperation. This is a strong, nationwide coalition of the committed—with many partners dedicated to supporting each other and pulling together toward our simple goal of making childhood the safe, secure, and hopeful time it should be.

Let me close with a story that shows that dedication, and highlights what we can do by working together. In June of this year, Canadian authorities sent to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children a new series of photographs depicting the sexual abuse of a young girl. A dedicated ICAC officer in Maine noticed that the girl’s eyes were different colors and that she was wearing glasses. She managed to identify the model and make of the glasses and passed that information on to an FBI agent in New York. After further investigation, the FBI agent located an eye doctor in Annapolis, Maryland, who recognized the victim as one of his patients. 

Based on that information, FBI agents in Maryland did surveillance on the victim’s house and positively identified her from the pictures. Working together, Assistant U.S. Attorneys and agents from New York and Maryland immediately got a search warrant, and agents went into the house. There, they found evidence of the abuse visible in the photos. Two defendants were charged – and, most important, one little girl was saved.

As one of the Assistant U.S. Attorneys involved in the case said, and I quote: "This makes the moments of frustration and discouragement all worthwhile. I am so proud to be a part of Project Safe Childhood and honored to work with such an outstanding group of people."

There’s nothing I can add to that, except my profound thanks to everyone involved in that case, and to everyone involved in the hundreds of similar cases that all of you and your colleagues handle every day around the country. Keep up the good work.

Thank you very much.

Fact Sheet: Project Safe Childhood