Remarks as prepared for delivery
Good morning, everyone. Thank you, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Alan Hanson, for that kind introduction – and more importantly, thanks to you and your team for putting together such a comprehensive and cutting-edge agenda for the next few days. Alan’s Office of Justice Programs – under the leadership of Acting Associate Attorney General Jesse Panuccio – provides invaluable support to our mission to end child exploitation, whether by organizing a conference like this one or supporting the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force Program. The ICAC Task Force Program, much like the Department’s Project Safe Childhood, marshal federal, state, and local resources to better locate, apprehend, and prosecute those who exploit children via the internet, as well as to identify and rescue victims.
It is remarkable to have so many dedicated prosecutors, law enforcement officers, and advocates gathered together in one place and in pursuit of the same shared mission. As the Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division, I have the privilege of overseeing approximately 700 attorneys who prosecute some of the most serious criminal threats facing our country. Even among the many significant, groundbreaking matters handled in the Criminal Division, the incredible work of the dedicated prosecutors in our Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section – or “CEOS” – stands out.
At CEOS, we are proud to help lead the Department’s fight against child exploitation. We dismantle the constantly evolving platforms that predators use to victimize children online, and we aggressively prosecute those responsible for devising these truly reprehensible ways to facilitate abuse. We help develop policy and legislative solutions that will enhance our capacity to bring those offenders to justice. We conduct innovative trainings across the country – at events like this week’s conference.
And we spearhead and coordinate massive nationwide and international operations to disrupt and destroy child exploitation networks. Given the diffusion, reach, and sophistication of the predators we target, these law enforcement operations are most successful only when we can rely on our close partnerships with the many federal, state, local, tribal, and non-governmental partners here today.
Operation Pacifier was a prime example. In that case, we worked together to target the administrators and users of a highly sophisticated, global enterprise on the dark web called “Playpen,” where users exchanged tens of thousands of postings relating to the sexual abuse of children – even, revoltingly, children as young as infants and toddlers. Operation Pacifier was a model of law enforcement ingenuity. Agents identified and seized the “Playpen” server, which gave the FBI a very short window of time to deploy court-authorized techniques to identify site users. Many of the investigations that were generated by the FBI were then pursued by state and local authorities.
The results of Operation Pacifier have been staggering – both in the United States and abroad. Multiple administrators who ran this horrible enterprise have been convicted and have received lengthy prison sentences. To date, Operation Pacifier has led to the arrests of at least 348 U.S.-based individuals and 548 individuals abroad, the prosecution of 25 U.S.-based child pornography producers and 51 U.S.-based hands-on abusers, and, most important of all, the rescue or identification of 55 children in the United States and 296 children abroad.
In fact, over the past five years alone, our operations like Pacifier have collectively resulted in investigations into approximately 3,500 individuals and have generated more than 10,000 leads targeting foreign suspects. As a result of our joint efforts, hundreds of child victims have been identified – children who no longer face the unspeakable abuse they once endured.
But amid these tremendous achievements, formidable challenges remain. Criminal actors are becoming more sophisticated each day. New and emerging technologies have enabled an illicit, dark corner of cyberspace to flourish. Readily available encryption and anonymizing networks provide a cheap and hidden mechanism to commit horrific crimes against children. These technological advancements have ushered in a historic rise in the production of child pornography, in the number of images being shared online, and in the degree of violence we’ve seen from the child predators. Sadly, the only statistic for which we’ve seen a decline has been in the age of the victims – with more and more offenders targeting infants and toddlers, probably in no small part because of their inability to disclose their abuse.
The internet has also provided criminals with convenient and profitable platforms to advertise children for sex. But, as we recently demonstrated, they do so at their own risk.
In April, Backpage.com – the internet’s leading forum to advertise child prostitution – was seized and shut down, thanks to the collective action by CEOS and our federal and state partners. The Backpage website was a criminal haven where sex traffickers marketed their young victims. The Backpage takedown – and the contemporaneous arrests of individuals allegedly responsible for administering the site – struck a monumental blow against child sex traffickers.
But other sites inevitably will seek to fill the void left by Backpage, and we must be vigilant in bringing those criminals to justice as well. With the recent passage of the SESTA-FOSTA legislation, state and local prosecutors are now positioned to more effectively prosecute criminals that host online sex trafficking markets that victimize our children.
And it is not just children in America that we must protect. Child sex tourism continues to thrive, with offenders in the United States able to communicate with their young victims across the globe in cybersex dens, without ever leaving their own homes. We recently prosecuted a Virginia man named Carl Sara. Sara paid tens of thousands of dollars to direct the sexual abuse of minors in the Philippines via webcams. But Sara was not content with just abusing his young victims online. He also traveled to the Philippines intending to have sex with an eight-year-old he had met online, and while in the Philippines, Sara in fact paid for sex with a minor.
Less than a month ago, Daniel Stephen Johnson was convicted after trial in Oregon. Johnson started an orphanage in Cambodia and held himself out as a selfless Christian missionary. But he was far from one. Over several years, Johnson repeatedly abused young children at that Cambodian orphanage. His victims ranged in age from eight to 17. At Johnson’s trial, we presented testimony from multiple victims who traveled to the United States to confront their abuser. Johnson’s conviction was a true testament to the courage of those victims, as well as to our steadfast commitment to hold accountable child predators for their appalling crimes.
Abhorrent, unconscionable crimes like these serve as a stark reminder of the extraordinary importance of the work that you all do. And they also serve as a reminder that protecting our children from sex predators demands a coordinated, strategic response. We must work together, we must remain focused and engaged, and we must maintain the momentum we have built. That is why this week’s conference – and the state-of-the-art training that will be conducted by CEOS, other federal and state prosecutors, investigators, and our non-government and industry partners – is so critical to our success.
I’m told there are more than 1,400 of us who have come together this week. One-thousand four-hundred dedicated women and men, committed to taking our efforts to prevent child exploitation to a new level. What an incredibly impressive assembly of experienced, talented, and dedicated leaders in our fight. Take advantage of that. Over the next three days, you have the opportunity to learn not only from the presenters and panels, but also from one another. Share ideas and best practices, identify and discuss trends, forge relationships. Working together, we will only strengthen our collective efforts to eradicate child exploitation.
I end by saying, “thank you.” Thank you for your commitment to the fight. Thank you for all you do to save our children from unspeakable abuse. Keep up the amazing work, and never forget the importance of what you are doing each and every day standing up for some of the most vulnerable members of our society.
Enjoy the conference.