THE HONORABLE DEBORAH J. DANIELS
ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL
OFFICE OF JUSTICE PROGRAMS
PROTECTING OUR CHILDREN: WORKING TOGETHER TO END CHILD PROSTITUTION
ON FRIDAY, DECEMBER 13, 2002
I’m delighted to join in welcoming you to this important discussion. I want to thank Deputy Attorney General Thompson for taking time from his very busy schedule to be here with us today. It was, in fact, at his urging that we convened this National Summit. Bob Woodson will be introduced to you in a few moments, but I also want to welcome Bob, a dear friend whom I admire greatly.
The National Center on Missing and Exploited Children calls child prostitution “the most overlooked form of child abuse in the United States.” While statistical data are hard to find, one national prevention organization estimates that there are between 100,000 and 300,000 children who are sexually exploited through prostitution and pornography in the United States. And we know this is a problem of international dimension, with many more victims all across the globe.
These children suffer from unimaginable abuse. This afternoon, we’ll hear the very powerful stories of those who survived child prostitution and extricated themselves from this web of suffering.
Too often, child prostitutes are perceived by the public as willing participants in their own victimization. Too often, they fall under the radar screen of victim assistance and child protective services. Too often, their cases are treated as simple nuisance crimes by the criminal justice system.
These are some of the issues today’s discussion is designed to address. We must learn how to effectively intervene with the young people caught in the web of prostitution and sexual exploitation. As any street worker can tell you, it’s often hard to “reach” these kids through the tough, protective shell they’ve developed.
But it’s critical that we gain their trust and provide the services so many of these victims desperately need – mental health counseling, medical care, substance abuse treatment, safe housing, education, and the skills they need to live productive lives, without resorting to prostitution and other crime to support themselves.
At the same time, we also have to work harder to prosecute those who prey upon children. As a former state and federal prosecutor, I’ve prosecuted a number of child abuse cases, and I know how critical it is to get these offenders off our streets and away from vulnerable children.
But the key to ending the problem of child prostitution and exploitation is prevention. We have to make sure we’re working at the front end to prevent at-risk children from ending up on the streets and engaging in prostitution and other self-destructive behavior.
Prevention is the cornerstone of this Administration’s program for children. President Bush believes that every child in America deserves to live in a safe, permanent, and loving family. He has set forth a strong, national agenda aimed at protecting children from harm while strengthening and supporting families.
And we know that strong, functional families are an important part of reducing the number of runaway, thrown away, abused, and homeless children – those children most at risk of becoming involved in prostitution.
The President’s agenda includes promoting responsible fatherhood, promoting safe and stable families, encouraging adoption, and helping children in foster care. It also includes mentoring, family strengthening, and other efforts we support through the Office of Justice Programs, including in particular our Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, to prevent at-risk children from becoming involved in delinquency and to protect child victims of abuse.
But we know that it’s going to take all of us working together – law enforcement, community and faith-based organizations, public health, education, and other partners – to enable our communities to rescue children from the streets, strip clubs, and sociopaths who prey upon them.
I want to thank all of you for your commitment to this goal, and for everything you’re already doing to address the very serious problem of child prostitution and exploitation.
Your discussions here today will help determine the next steps in our national effort to protect our children from this devastating form of abuse. Thank you for participating in these important deliberations, and for your dedication to our nation’s children. I look forward to hearing your recommendations for action.