Remarks as prepared for delivery
Thank you, Maureen [Henneberg], for that kind introduction. It’s my privilege to welcome all of you to the Department of Justice, and to join Maureen and Eileen as we recognize these extraordinary honorees. I want to thank the leadership and staff of our Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), who organize this event every year. They’ve done an outstanding job again this year, and I’m grateful for all they do, every day, to keep our children safe.
I want to welcome my fellow speakers, Gina DeJesus and John Clark. Gina, thank you for taking the time to be with us today to tell your incredible story. It’s a story of remarkable courage in the face of unimaginable odds. We are honored to have you here to share it with us.
And my great thanks to John Clark and our friends from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The Department of Justice and the National Center have enjoyed a long-standing partnership that has brought tremendous gains in child and community safety. The CyberTipline manned by the Center’s staff has allowed citizens and Internet service providers to send law enforcement agencies millions of reports of online enticement. And its 24-hour hotline fields tens of thousands of calls each year from families and concerned citizens sharing information about missing and exploited children. Countless young people have been protected from harm thanks to the National Center’s resources. Our kids are safer because of their work.
I’m pleased to be here today to honor these outstanding individuals and teams for their efforts to rescue missing and exploited children and to bring perpetrators to justice. Their achievements, and the stories behind them, remind us that it takes a special type of person to do the work that they do. Perseverance and ingenuity, vigilance and fortitude – these are qualities they possess in abundance, and those same qualities animate the work of everyone in this hall.
Detective Eric Kjorness showed those traits when he investigated 15 child pornography cases, winning guilty pleas from 4 offenders. Special Agent Kathryn Gamble displayed them as well, when she helped lead an international operation that rescued 22 children in 9 countries. The Alabama and Georgia Internet Crimes Against Children Task Forces applied their own savvy and resourcefulness to Operation Southern Impact, which yielded 29 arrests for possession and distribution of child pornography. And T.J. Davis demonstrated his own heroism when he identified an abducted 13-year-old girl and alerted authorities, saving her from a predator – and helping preserve potential evidence in the process.
These exceptional men and women are shining examples of the courage and compassion we need today. They exemplify what it means to be a dedicated public servant and a concerned citizen. Because of their diligence, their alertness, their deeply felt commitment to the most vulnerable among us, children are safer and their communities are healthier and more vibrant places.
As a federal prosecutor, I understand how very important it is to have smart, well-trained, devoted people handling these cases. Cases involving missing children and child exploitation are among the most difficult and wrenching. They reveal the worst of human nature. You need people who can withstand the powerful emotional impact. I saw this incredible resilience in the men and women I worked with during my time as U.S. Attorney. They have my highest respect and esteem.
I am proud to help lead an agency that supports the excellent work of these officers, and of the many law enforcement professionals and advocates in this room.
Our Internet Crimes Against Children task force program, led by OJJDP, is a prime example. I worked with some exceptional investigators on our own task force in Maryland. And I know there are many more like them across the country. More than 4,500 federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies nationwide are combatting computer-facilitated child exploitation under the ICAC task force program. Task force investigations have led to the arrests of more than 73,000 individuals suspected of sexually exploiting children – 8,800 in the last year alone. Task force personnel have also given more than 14,000 presentations on Internet safety over the last year and supported almost 3,000 regional law enforcement trainings.
I am also proud of our involvement in the America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response (AMBER) Alert program, another of the many fruits of our partnership with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. It includes a strong network of law enforcement partners, transportation officials, and state coordinators, and an ever-expanding secondary distribution system through which Internet providers and wireless carriers send alerts. The AMBER Alert program has helped to recover more than 870 abducted children. The Justice Department is also collaborating with the Attorney General of Mexico on the development and expansion of Mexico’s AMBER Alert System, which has already resulted in the rescue of hundreds of Mexican children.
We continue to strive to make this vital public safety tool even more effective, because we know there’s room for improvement. Last year, an 11-year-old girl named Ashlynne Mike was abducted and murdered on a Navajo Indian Reservation. Despite all we have done over the years to strengthen the AMBER Alert network, Ashlynne’s case exposed significant gaps in service. Eileen was on Capitol Hill earlier this month to meet with the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, and discuss our efforts to improve the way the system operates in Indian country. We are committed to closing the gaps exposed by Ashlynne’s death. Her family has honored us with their presence today. We pledge to them that we will honor Ashlynne’s memory by working harder than ever to prevent this from happening to another child.
We remember others who have gone missing, as well – Etan Patz and Jacob Wetterling, whose families each received a measure of justice recently after decades of waiting and agony. We continue to mourn the loss of Etan and Jacob even as we are heartened by the exceptional work of the investigators who worked to solve those cases over many years.
We are amazed by what they have done. We are in awe of everything each of you has done. And we will continue to support you as you carry out this vital work.
We are fortunate to have an Attorney General whose top priority is the safety of America’s citizens, our children foremost among them. To carry out the President’s executive order on reducing crime, Attorney General Sessions created a national task force to determine how we can make our neighborhoods safer. The task force is meeting with crime-fighters and experts across the country to recommend ways the federal government can combat violent crime and strengthen relationships with state, local, and tribal partners – as we’ve done through the ICAC program.
When the Attorney General talks about the urgent task of reducing violence in America, he is thinking first of the young people of our country. He believes we have a responsibility to make sure all of our citizens – and especially our kids – can live and thrive, free from the threat of harm, free to pursue their dreams. That is why the Department of Justice is honored to be your partner, and it is why we will never let up in the fight to protect our children.
I thank you all for taking on this important work, and for sticking with it. We still have a lot to do. I look forward to working with all of you to protect our children.
Before I conclude, let me take a moment to remember the children who are still missing, and the parents and families still waiting and hoping for them to return. On Missing Children’s Day, we pray for their safe return, and we pledge to work tirelessly to make the list of missing and exploited children shorter next year.