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Deputy Attorney General James Cole Speaks at the National Strategy Conference on Combating Child Exploitation


San Jose, CA
United States

Good morning. It is an honor to join you today at this first-ever National Strategy Conference. More than twelve hundred agents, investigators, prosecutors and others have assembled here in California this week to receive state of the art training to aid in the fight against the sexual exploitation of children. I have reviewed the program for this week, and know that all of you will learn a great deal from a very impressive roster of speakers and presenters. You all are truly the front line in the battle against child exploitation. Under the leadership of the Attorney General, the Department of Justice is fully engaged with you to try and eradicate this crime problem.

Across all components of the Department, fighting child exploitation is one of the Department’s highest priorities. In the last decade, the FBI, U.S. Attorneys, and the Criminal Division have investigated and prosecuted more offenders than ever before. The U.S. Marshals have recovered thousands of fugitive sex offenders under their mandate in the Adam Walsh Act. The Office of Justice Programs has funded both the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Forces and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which have arrested tens of thousands of offenders and identified and rescued thousands of children. These numbers represent an enormous accomplishment, and on behalf of the Department of Justice, I thank you and congratulate you for all your hard work in protecting one of our nation’s most precious assets: our children.

As many of you know, the Attorney General announced the National Strategy for Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction last August. This strategy contained three key components: first, an assessment of the threat that our children face from child exploitation; second, an overview of the multitude of state, federal, local, and non-profit organizations that are working to combat the problem of child exploitation; and third, an outline of some goals and proposed steps the Department is taking to address these terrible crimes.

To put it bluntly, crimes against children are vile and taint the very fabric of our society. Make no mistake, the threat to our children is very real and with the advent and increasing sophistication of the Internet, this threat is evolving and expanding. It should not be a surprise to anyone in this room that assessing the threat posed by child exploitation is difficult. But in order to address the situation, we have to understand the dangers.

Unfortunately, there has been a significant increase in the proliferation of child pornography. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s Child Victim Identification Program has reviewed over 49 million image and movie files of child pornography since 2002, and has received nearly one million CyberTip reports from the public and electronic service providers since 1998. Just two weeks ago, May 2nd through 8th, the National Center received over 3,300 Cybertip reports. And, I understand that the numbers are going up, not down. This is a disturbing trend that must be reversed.

Like child pornography, the enticement of our children over the Internet is a serious threat. Offenders are using networks of like-minded deviants to share strategies, lurk in chat rooms, social networking sites and gaming sites where children commonly gather. The United Nations released a report in 2009 estimating that there are approximately 750,000 sexual predators using the Internet to try to make contact with children for the purpose of sexually exploiting them. Ensuring our children are aware of this hidden danger and know how to keep themselves safe is as crucial to our fight as is strong law enforcement efforts. Because of this there is a strong focus this week on prevention strategies and community outreach. While we in this room must focus on our investigation and prosecution missions, we must also educate the potential victims and their families that there are steps they can take to ensure the safety of children, especially online.

Some of our most vulnerable children also face the threat of being victimized by commercial sexual exploitation. Runaways, throwaways, sexual assault victims, and neglected children can be recruited into a violent life of forced prostitution. The numbers are staggering. From 2004 to 2008, ICAC Task Forces saw a 914 percent increase in the number of child victims of prostitution complaints processed by their members. Now the basis of this increase is unknown. It could be, in part, that more people are starting to register the complaints, but it also may represent an increasing trend in activity. Regardless, we have to take this alarming number seriously. We know that some criminals have turned away from illicit activities such as drug dealing and robbery and turned toward child sex trafficking because it’s more profitable -- these traffickers can make up to several thousand dollars a day as a single child victim can generate as much as $1,000 on a weekend night.

Understanding all of these dangers, we must also keep in mind that it is not just our own children who are at risk. The child sex tourism industry continues to thrive. Child sex tourists prey on the most vulnerable children in the most impoverished areas of the world.

Ultimately, whatever form of child exploitation we discuss, whether it is child pornography, the enticement of children by online predators, or the sex trafficking of children – a central theme emerges - child exploitation is a global problem that spans borders and requires a global response. Coordination and marshalling all of our collective efforts will be necessary to attack these criminals and stop the devastation that they wreak.

As we consider how to attack this problem going forward, we must continue to work together, and help lead others to join us in the fight. We must devise strategies to combat this heinous crime and rescue these victims. Through leadership and coordination with our international allies, with our federal, state, local, and tribal partners, with NGOs, child advocacy centers, victim service providers, educators, and with industry we will leave the criminals no place to hide.

The Department of Justice is committed to continuing to fight with you against the sexual exploitation of children on all fronts. This must include prevention, deterrence, and interdiction. We recognize that prosecution, although an important tool, will not solve the problem alone. The solution to child exploitation must include prevention through public awareness and education campaigns. It must also include deterrence using tools like sex offender monitoring. And, you in law enforcement must have the technological tools you need to investigate these crimes. This is why you will be learning about innovative forensics and other technologies this week. A technology-heavy crime needs a high-tech response.

Some of the goals we set for ourselves last year have already been accomplished. For example, the Attorney General approved the expansion of Project Safe Childhood in February. Project Safe Childhood will now include every federal offense involving the sexual exploitation of a child. We will build on the success of both Project Safe Childhood and Innocence Lost, the FBI-lead initiative targeting those who force our children into a life of prostitution. During this time of scarce resources, we believe that pooling our resources, combining the skills of all our people with expertise in crimes against children, will act as a force multiplier. We are absolutely committed to the seamless coordination of the FBI, the Criminal Division, the U.S. Attorneys, the U.S. Marshals, and the ICAC task forces. We must rely on each other, on the unique skills and talent that all of you bring to this issue in order to eradicate it.

The work that all of you do every day is critical for our children. I know that this kind of work is supremely challenging, and that you enter this fight every day without the expectation of recognition or thanks for what you do. That being said, I know that the Attorney General will be recognizing some of you on Thursday for your outstanding work and dedication to this effort. I want you to know that all of you have my thanks, and the thanks of the Department of Justice and the country, for the battle you fight every day on behalf of our children. Every case you investigate or prosecute, every victim you rescue or identify, brings us closer to our ultimate goal: the eradication of the sexual exploitation of children. One day we will get there. I firmly believe that. You all know the faces of those children we haven’t found yet, whose eyes beg for help in those images seared in your memory. Together we will find them, together we will bring their abusers to justice, and together we will rescue them from the nightmare of their abuse.

Thank you for all that you do, and keep up the good fight.

Project Safe Childhood
Updated September 17, 2014