Justice News

Deputy Attorney General David W. Ogden at the National Missing Children’s Day Ceremony
Washington, DC
United States
Thursday, May 21, 2009

Remarks as prepared for delivery.

Thank you, Laurie. And warm thanks to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention for the hard work and careful planning that have gone into this important event.

It’s a privilege to be here today to talk about a subject that I care a great deal about – our children. I have three of my own, and like every parent, I worry about their safety. I’m grateful that there are people like our award recipients – and those of you in the audience – who work so hard every day to reduce the threats that our children face.

As parents, it’s right for us to be concerned, and natural for us to worry. But it’s also counterproductive to let this anxiety itself damage our lives, and those of our children. To hear it from the people in this room, the remedy for worry – and the best outlet for our concern – is action. And I want to thank you all for taking action to protect our nation’s children.

Thirty years ago this month, a terrible, terrible thing happened. Six-year-old Etan Patz – the middle child of three – begged his mother to let him walk the two blocks to his school bus stop. He left his house that morning wearing his Future Flight Captain pilot’s cap, but he never made it to school. He remains missing to this day, though investigators continue to pursue his case. He would be 36 years old now. Instead of a man who might have children of his own, he is, to us, still that little boy, his face smiling from the back of a milk carton. What happened to Etan Patz was a terrible tragedy. And he is but one of thousands of missing children. 

Etan’s tragedy sparked a movement. Before Etan’s case, there was little coordination and collaboration across government agencies. There was no AMBER Alert or child abduction response team. There were no congressional champions like those we have today. There was no Missing Children’s Day. There was no such thing as an organized missing and exploited children’s movement.

The movement we have today is a testament to the courage of parents who chose to help others in the midst of their own personal tragedy. Because of them – because of those of you here today – we now have a dedicated, expansive team of professionals and volunteers who work every day to bring missing and abducted children home safely.

We have missing children clearinghouses and AMBER Alert programs in every state. 

We have wonderfully effective national organizations like the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the Association of Missing and Exploited Children’s Organizations. 

And we have a Federal Agency Task Force that coordinates all federal activity related to missing and exploited children, from prevention through investigation. Before the Task Force was created by Attorney General Reno, federal agencies often worked in isolation, did not share information, and did not fully comprehend how they – individually and collectively – could impact the field of missing and exploited children. Today, there is far greater collaboration, communication, and cooperation – which are so critical to missing and exploited children cases.

Earlier in my career, I had the privilege of serving as Chief of Staff and Counselor to Attorney General Reno, and then as the head of the Civil Division. During this time, I helped the Attorney General work closely with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to address the growing problem of child exploitation and child pornography. I developed a full appreciation of the gravity and urgency of the challenges the Center faces and a tremendous respect for the Center and its work.

Preventing the sexual exploitation of children, and stopping and punishing those who do it are a leading priority. The Department aggressively enforces the laws at our disposal to protect our children. The Department’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, in our Criminal Division, (known as “CEOS”) works with our United States Attorney Offices and federal law enforcement around the country, to target significant, large-scale, and high-impact offenders of child exploitation. Because many of these crimes occur over the Internet, which knows no borders, CEOS prosecutors and Computer Forensic Specialists from CEOS’ High Tech Investigative Unit also work closely with foreign law enforcement agencies to identify and punish these predators. The FBI, through its Innocent Images National Initiative and Crimes Against Children Unit, also works tirelessly to identify these offenders. Working with law enforcement at every level, we will work as hard as we can to protect children from those who would harm them.    

That is why the Department takes an important leadership role in the world community, fighting to ensure that these offenders face appropriate consequences no matter what country they find themselves in, and ensuring that the international community places appropriate priority on protecting children from these crimes. At the same time, the Department provides important support to our State and local partners to fight this scourge.  

The government has a big job here, but we in government cannot fight these problems alone. All of you are key partners. Because of all of you, countless children have been protected from harm, and countless parents have been saved from unspeakable heartache. We will never know the names of the children you have helped save. They will never have the opportunity to thank you. But every child that grows up, safe and healthy, is a tribute to you and what you do every day.

So today I thank you, but also ask you to never let up. Your work is more important now than ever. The threats are growing; the avenues for reaching our children are expanding. Predators are more sophisticated about how they gain access to children, and they are more brazen. 

These cases are among the most difficult of any criminal matters to investigate. The perpetrators violate every notion of decency that we have. Even the most seasoned law enforcement officer has to feel revulsion and horror at what he or she uncovers in an investigation of this kind. Those who take on these cases deserve our respect, praise, and gratitude. They also need our support. That is why today I’m pleased to announce that the Department of Justice will award $50 million, starting as we stand here today, from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to support Internet Crimes Against Children initiatives around the country. 

These ICAC task forces are an integral part of our overall strategy to combat online child exploitation. The 59 task forces represent more than 2,000 federal, state, and local law enforcement and prosecution agencies. Over the last two years, they have conducted more than 24,000 forensic examinations, identified more than 1,400 child victims, and arrested more than 5,400 individuals. These task forces are aggressively pursuing all avenues to protect children against sexual victimization. 

Forty one million dollars of the funding total will go directly to support task force activities by expanding the number of investigators, forensic technicians, analysts, and others who are on the front lines. It will also pay for equipment, overtime, and other operational expenses. The remaining $9 million will support training, technical assistance, communication, and data infrastructure.

This is an important investment, not just because it helps to retain and create jobs for people on the front lines of this important effort, but because it helps to retain peace of mind. It sends a message that while we must attend to the difficult economic challenges our country is facing, we won’t forget the critical public safety needs faced by our communities. And there is no better way to measure community safety than by how successful we are in protecting our children.

By all accounts, we’re doing well. Our Internet Crimes Against Children task forces are doing their jobs effectively. Our AMBER Alert partners continue to return abducted children safely to their families. But we know that one missing child is one too many. There can be no rest in these endeavors, so long as even one family is plagued by fear-filled nights and days awaiting news about a missing child.   

National Missing Children’s Day commemorates the critical efforts of families, child advocates, federal, state, and local law enforcement, and private entities. But National Missing Children’s Day is just one day, but for those here today, the work of protecting our children continues every day. I commend you for your perseverance and your courage. 

On behalf of the Attorney General and the Department of Justice, congratulations to our well-deserving honorees, and thank you to all of you. We thank you all for everything you do.

Updated September 17, 2014