Thank you for that wonderful introduction. It is an honor to be here with all of you who work so hard to protect our country’s children.
Today is National Missing Children's Day. President Ronald Reagan began the observance in 1983 to recognize the day in 1979 when 6-year-old Etan Patz disappeared from a New York street corner on his way to school. He is still missing.
National Missing Children’s Day is a reminder to all parents and guardians of the need for high-quality photographs of their children for use in case of an emergency, vigilant efforts by the public to pay close attention to the posters, AMBER Alerts and posted photographs of missing children.
The Department has laid the groundwork for so many changes in the way we respond to missing and exploited children and it is one of the major priorities for both the Attorney General and me. I want to spend a little time going through with you some of the many ways not only the Department, but many other groups and entities have taken on the fight to protect our children.
As you all know DOJ has had a long history of working in this area. In 1995 Attorney General Janet Reno created the Federal Agency Task Force on Missing and Exploited Children. Since then it has been a focal point for positive change and growth. When the Task Force first began, participating agencies were reluctant to discuss cases, policies, practice, and protocols. They often worked in isolation, did not share information, and did not fully understand how they, individually and collectively, could make an impact the field of missing and exploited children.
Today, collaboration, communication, and cooperation are commonplace. Today, several Federal agencies are housed at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children to insure timely, accurate, and thorough responses to missing and exploited children. Federal agencies collaborate on all activities, from prevention through investigation. Task Force members have been instrumental in increasing cooperative efforts among all agencies and organizations involved in missing and exploited children at all levels – Federal, state, and local. The result is that we are more effective in our ability and success in preventing child abductions and exploitation, and are more effective in making sure that those who are responsible for such crimes are punished.
A key partner in our work has been The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Started in 1984, NCMEC has been a constant, dedicated, compassionate partner of families and children around the world. From 1984, NCMEC has demonstrated innovation in addressing crimes against children. I want to thank Ernie Allen for his long-time leadership and advocacy on behalf of America’s children.
One of the ways DOJ has taken the lead in protecting children is through the development of a robust AMBER Alert program. We now have expanded the AMBER Alert Program to Canada and Mexico (April 28th, 2011 in Mexico City) making the protection of children stronger, especially in cross border abductions. As of May 18th, 2011, 540 children have been safely recovered.
Indian Country is a significant partner in our efforts to protect children as well. In fact, Missing Children’s Day is being celebrated in Indian Country through a ceremony at Ak-Chin reservation in Maricopa, Az. This is the second year the celebration and recognition of Missing Children in Indian Country has occurred. We now have more than 30 tribal communities involved in AMBER Alert Programs.
There are also many important Grassroots organizations that are part of this effort. We have witnessed a groundswell of organizations that have taken on a major role in protecting children. In the 1990’s, there was an effort to establish clearinghouses in each state for missing children. Today each state supports a Missing Children Clearinghouse, each of which is a vital link in nationwide efforts to protect children. DOJ works very closely with all the state clearinghouses to ensure coordination, collaboration, and to promote communication. State clearinghouses work closely with AMBER Alert coordinators in each state and in many instances, serve as both the Clearinghouse manager and AMBER coordinator, playing a dual role in protecting children.
In 1994, under a DOJ discretionary grant, the Association of Missing and Exploited Children’s Organizations (AMECO) was created to provide a voice on issues related to missing and exploited children and their families and to create a more formal structure for credible, ethical and effective grassroots, nonprofit member organizations. Today, AMECO is a powerful force in protecting children and supporting families. 35 AMECO members in the United States and Canada work closely with their respective State Missing Children Clearinghouses, and are active advocates and supporters of families and children.
A major step in the fight against child exploitation was the creation of The Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force Program. Created in 1998, it has grown significantly since its inception, not only in terms of numbers, but also in terms of capacity. The first 10 ICAC Task Forces were funded in 1998. What started as a small program has grown to a broad, highly-trained, coordinated and effective network for combating internet crimes against children. Today there are 61 ICAC Task Forces across the U.S. They use federal funding to train investigators, detectives, forensic technicians, analysts, and other support staff who are on the front lines - every day - keeping kids safe.
Last week, I had the privilege of joining the ICAC Task forces, Ernie’s staff, and my Justice Department colleagues at the National Strategy Conference on Combating Child Exploitation. We trained more than 1,300 law enforcement officers and prosecutors who work missing and exploited children cases. I’m proud of the work these dedicated professionals have done – Through their efforts, tens of thousands of offenders have been arrested and thousands of children have been rescued. We’re expanding these efforts into tribal communities. Soon, 10 pilot tribes will launch ICAC Task Forces in Indian Country.
We know that violence takes a heavy toll on children whether they are victimized directly or exposed to it as witnesses. Sadly, the extent of children’s exposure to violence is widespread. Most of our children – some 60 percent according to our own research – are exposed to violence.Defending Childhood is one of the Attorney General’s signature initiatives. It’s goal is to reduce children’s exposure to violence and to mitigate its effects. The initiative also seeks to help us better understand the causes and consequences of exposure to violence and to raise public awareness of the impact it has on our kids.
Last August, the Attorney General announced the National Strategy for Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction. The Strategy contains three key components: an assessment of the threat that children face from child exploitation; an overview of Federal, state, local, and nonprofit organizations that are working to combat child exploitation; and an outline of goals and proposed action steps the Department of Justice is taking to address these crimes.
Fighting child exploitation is one of the Department’s highest priorities – and our work cuts across bureaus – the FBI, the Criminal Division, the Marshals Service, U.S. Attorneys, and the Office of Justice Programs. It also cuts across federal, state, local and tribal boundaries. It is through this strategy that we will combine our efforts to make sure that child exploitation - in all of its forms - is eradicated. I would now like to honor a few of those who have been dedicated to this fight for their outstanding contributions on behalf of our children.
On April 9, 2011, in Genoa, Nebraska, a 4-year-old boy was abducted from home by his aunt, who was known to be involved with drugs and had history of disappearing for 3 or 4 days at a time. The aunt was believed to be mentally unstable, had a history of violence, and did not have child seat in the vehicle. An AMBER Alert was issued because police believed the child was in danger of serious bodily harm or death. A clerk who had seen the AMBER Alert on the lottery terminal at her store recognized the van, suspect, and child. She immediately contacted the Hastings Police Department and the child was safely rescued.
On March 8, 2011, in Porterville, California, the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department requested an AMBER Alert for an 8-month-old boy who was abducted by his estranged biological father, after the father had broken into the child’s home. The boy’s mother attempted to intervene and was subsequently kidnapped as well. An individual heard the AMBER Alert broadcast and notified law enforcement of the suspect’s location. The boy and his mother were safely rescued, and the suspect was taken into custody.