Thank you, Marshall Jarrett – for your kind words, and for your decades of service to our nation’s Department of Justice. More years ago than I’d like to say, when – fresh out of law school – I joined the Department, Marshall was one of my first supervisors. I was – and I continue to be – the beneficiary of his advice and example. And, today, I’m especially grateful for the leadership that he brings to the work we’ve gathered to discuss and to advance – the work of protecting our children.
Thank you all for being part of this conversation – and for the time that you have taken, and the sacrifices that you have made, to be here in San Jose for our first-ever National Strategy Conference. With this inaugural gathering, we are making history. Not only are we raising awareness about the problem of child exploitation but – by bringing together so many law enforcement officials, advocates, investigators, and prosecutors – we are signaling that, when it comes to keeping our children from harm, a new era of collaboration has begun.
I especially want to thank Francey Hakes – the National Coordinator for this work – and her colleagues from across the Department who have done a great job organizing this groundbreaking conference and developing a comprehensive, cutting-edge agenda. I’m also grateful for the opportunity to recognize the extraordinary contributions of our Combating Child Exploitation Award recipients.
Above all, I’m encouraged to see so many key allies and strategic partners in one place – eager to forge and to strengthen vital relationships, to share information and best practices, and – ultimately – to take our efforts to prevent and reduce child exploitation to a new level. Although Internet Crimes Against Children Task Forces and Project Safe Childhood coalitions play a variety of roles and work in many different regions, together, you are keeping our nation’s most sacred pledge, and helping to fulfill the Justice Department’s most critical missions: ensuring security and opportunity for our children and justice for all.
As everyone here knows, this work isn’t easy. In fact – in this time of growing demands and limited resources – your jobs have never been more difficult. But your efforts – to protect children in need and at risk, to support juvenile victims, and to safeguard our young people from exploitation, abuse, trafficking, sexual violence, and online threats – have never been more urgent.
Since the launch of Project Safe Childhood five years ago, investigations and prosecutions of child exploitation crimes have increased dramatically. Unfortunately, we’ve also seen an historic rise in the distribution of child pornography, in the number of images being shared online, and in the level of violence associated with child exploitation and sexual abuse crimes. Tragically, the only place we’ve seen a decrease is in the age of victims.
This is – quite simply – unacceptable. But, together, we are fighting back. And our enforcement, engagement, and outreach efforts are making a difference across the country.
For example, in Southern Texas, a dedicated community outreach team has launched a Project Safe Childhood initiative designed to raise awareness about child exploitation, and about Internet safety. They have already reached out to thousands of parents, students, and educators across communities like Houston, Brownsville, and Corpus Christi. In California and Florida, key leaders in law enforcement and in U.S. Attorneys’ offices have worked together to engage new partners – efforts that helped lead to a high rate of success in securing tough sentences for sex trafficking and child exploitation offenders. In Arizona, Ohio, and Washington State, prosecutors and law enforcement officials have developed new strategies to aggressively identify and stop those who attempt to exploit children. In Alabama and Utah, leaders in our U.S. Attorneys’ offices are seeking out innovative approaches to preventing and prosecuting these crimes. And in North Carolina and Washington, D.C., federal and local agencies are coming together to foster collaboration and to streamline their operations. Meanwhile, in Illinois, passionate advocates like Felice Weiler – a Specialist with the U.S. Attorney’s office in the Northern District – are reaching out to victims, witnesses, and their families like never before.
Because of these and other efforts – and with the help of our U.S. Attorneys Offices, our ICAC Task Forces, and network of federal partners – in recent years, we have brought a record number of offenders to justice. We’ve also taken unprecedented steps to engage community members, parents, teachers, electronic service providers, and international partners in this work. As a result, we’ve seen remarkable success in identifying and shutting down child pornography rings that span across the globe. And we’re now aggressively targeting the top 500 most dangerous, non-compliant sex offenders.
We’ve also improved the public’s ability to report child exploitation crimes – through our Project Safe Childhood website, as well as our cyber tip line. In fact, since the tip line was established in 1998, more than one million complaints have been processed – including more than three thousand in the first week of this month alone.
Last August marked another critical step forward, when the Department released the National Strategy for Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction. Through this framework, we are formalizing key partnerships; streamlining our education, prevention and prosecution activities; improving information sharing and collaboration; and making the most effective use of limited resources. Going forward, we must apply two of the key lessons we’ve learned in recent years: that our focus must expand beyond enforcement and prosecutions to include proven prevention and deterrence efforts; and that protecting our children means addressing all federal offenses that involve the exploitation of young people, not just Internet-facilitated crimes.
Today, we know that criminals will go to just about any lengths to evade the law – and, so long as that’s the case, we need to use every appropriate tool and available resource to enforce it. That’s why, in February, I approved the expansion of Project Safe Childhood beyond the online crimes it was initially created to address. We’re now utilizing cutting-edge technologies alongside traditional methods of enforcement and recovery to improve our odds of catching those who prey upon our children – and to more effectively leverage the capacity of our law enforcement partners, as well as the broad network of nonprofits actively engaged in the fight against child exploitation and abuse.
But we need to invite even more partners – from across the public and private sectors – to join us in this fight, and to enlist passionate private citizens who can help bring untapped resources to bear. That’s why I’m thrilled that we have so many dedicated men and women with us this week – from our law enforcement partners, to our deserving award winners, to inspiring national advocates like Erin Runnion. After the tragic murder of her five-year-old daughter, Samantha, Erin founded the Joyful Child Foundation in 2002. And she is one of several parents here who has found the strength to channel a devastating personal loss into a powerful call to action.
On behalf of my colleagues across the Justice Department, I want each of you to know that I am committed to answering this call.
Thanks to remarkable people like Erin, to partners in – and beyond – this room, and to each of this afternoon’s awardees – I have never been more optimistic about our ability to protect the children we are so privileged to serve.
Across the country, we are seeing – and you are proving – that we can win the fight against child exploitation. And, today, I ask that you keep up – and find ways to strengthen – your critical work.
Once again, I want to thank you for all that you have done – and for your ongoing commitment to build on today’s record of progress. As we continue this conversation in the months and years ahead, I look forward to working with each of you to further develop and execute our National Strategy for Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction – and to celebrating additional achievements, and even greater successes, at next year’s conference.
And, now, it is my distinct privilege to recognize our award winners.