Children advocates welcomed the government’s expanded commitment, saying that to make a significant difference the plan must be comprehensive, Internet-savvy and include parents and public education efforts.
“Since the Justice Department launched the Project Safe Childhood initiative in 2006, investigations and prosecutions of child exploitation crimes have increased dramatically,” U.S.. Attorney General Eric Holder said yesterday at a kickoff event for the new initiative, called the National Strategy for Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction.
The event was held at the offices of the nonprofit National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Alexandria, VA.
“Unfortunately,” Holder continued, “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.”.
Holder called the situation “unacceptable.”
“It is time to renew our commitment to this work,” he said. “It is time to intensify our efforts. “
The new strategy is the result of the 2008 PROTECT Act, passed by Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush. One of the original sponsors of the legislation, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-FL, was at the announcement.
The PROTECT Act authorized $1.05 billion over 8 years to help fund local agencies battling Internet crimes against children, devote more federal agents to child exploitation cases, and increase the forensic capacity of law enforcement dealing with child exploitation cases.
The law also mandated that the Department of Justice study the overall law enforcement approach to the forms of child exploitation and develop a comprehensive national strategy.
“As the Attorney General and Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz have said, this is a war,” said Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. “To wage this war, we need a real, multifaceted strategy that is balanced and comprehensive. We need more officers, yes. But we also need to emphasize prevention and interdiction.”
Allen said that progress has been made in both awareness of the problem and measures to combat it.
In 1995, only 50 cases of child pornography were prosecuted in the U.S. In 2009, 2,300 child pornography cases were brought, he said.
“The recognition that brought about Congressional action and this new strategy is that child exploitation is an exploding problem, which has taken off with the advent of the Internet,” Allen said.
Holder said the strategy will fuse cutting-edge technologies with traditional methods of law enforcement, and will better leverage the capacity of law enforcements partners, and “the broad network of nonprofits actively engaged in the fight against child exploitation and abuse.”
The strategy provides the first-ever comprehensive threat assessment of the dangers facing children from child pornography, online enticement, child sex tourism and commercial sexual exploitation. It also outlines a blueprint to strengthen the fight against these crimes, authorities said.
The Department of Justice will create a national database to allow federal, state, tribal, local and international law enforcement partners to coordinate and disentangle their cases, engage in undercover operations, share information and conduct analysis on dangerous offenders and future threats and trends.
“The department also created 38 additional Assistant U.S. Attorney positions to devote to child exploitation cases, and over the coming months will work to fill the vacancies and train the new assistants in this specialized area,” Holder said.
He also announced, as part of the initiative, that the U.S. Marshals Service is launching a nationwide operation targeting the top 500 most dangerous, non-compliant sex offenders in the nation.
Ahead of Congress, in 2006, under Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, the Department of Justice launched Project Safe Childhood which, Holder said, has brought 8,464 cases against 8,637 defendants, including prosecutions of online enticement of children, interstate transportation of children, and production, possession and distribution of child pornograph.
PSC will be integrated into the larger strategy and the department is re-launching the project’s website, ProjectSafeChildhood.gov.
Donna Rice Hughes, president of Enough Is Enough, an organization dedicated to combating online exploitation of children, welcomed the DOJ’s new coordinated and expanded efforts “to identify, arrest and prosecute child predators and those involved in child pornography.”
“The steps taken by the Department, however, are only a beginning,” Rice Hughes said. “For the strategy to succeed it must be comprehensive and must also address the problem of pornography and obscenity on the Internet.”
Rice Hughes pointed to a “greater and greater presence of sexually explicit content on the Web. As this has grown, so has the problem of child sexual exploitation, as children become more susceptible to the lures of predators, increasingly sexualized, and the population of exploiters grows.”
She said that law enforcement must be accompanied by public education and empowerment efforts.
“EIE developed with DOJ the “Internet Safety 101″ multi-media curriculum designed to educate, empower and equip parents and other caring adults to protect child from sexual online exploitation.”
Rice Hughes said government must aggressively enforce all of the laws designed to protect children online, but parents are still “the first line of defense.”
According to the DOJ, 797,500 children (younger than 18) were reported missing in a one-year period of time studied, for an average of 2,185 children being reported missing each day.
In the last quarter of 2009, the NCMEC Hotline handled an average of 262 service-related calls per day. Since its 1984 inception, the toll-free Hotline has handled more than 2.4 million calls.
Research indicates that 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 10 boys will be sexually victimized before adulthood.
According to Enough Is Enough, 40 percent of people arrested for child pornography had sexually victimized children.
Enough Is Enough also reports that worldwide pornography revenue in 2006 was $97.06 billion, with approximately $13 billion made in the United States.
Child pornography is one of the fastest growing businesses online. In 2008, Internet Watch Foundation found 1,536 individual child abuse domains, with 58 percent housed in the U.S.
According to the NCMEC Approximatelyone in seven youth online (10 to 17-years-old) received a sexual solicitation or approach over the Internet; four percent received an aggressive sexual solicitation; 34% percent had an unwanted exposure to sexual material; and 27 percent of the youth who encountered unwanted sexual material told a parent or guardian.