Regina B. Schofield, Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs
23rd National Symposium on Child Abuse
March 21, 2007
Thank you, Ron. It’s a pleasure to be here.
I want to thank the National Children’s Advocacy Center for inviting me to speak. I was asked to speak last year, and I sincerely regret that events conspired to pull me away at the last minute. Fortunately, Bob Flores, the Administrator of our Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, filled in for me, and for that I’m very grateful.
I’m glad that the National Children’s Advocacy Center continues to bring us this very important symposium. As we prepare for National Child Abuse Prevention Month in April, I think it is important to note that this symposium has been the training ground for tens of thousands of child abuse professionals.
The National Children’s Advocacy Center continues to be a model for the nation and for a host of international delegations. I speak for all of the Office of Justice Programs when I say we have been proud to be its supporters and partners.
In particular, I want to thank Chris Newlin for his leadership and vision at the Center. And I would like to express my appreciation to Marilyn Grundy for overseeing the planning of this symposium and for dealing with all the headaches that go with putting on an event of this size. Good work, Marilyn!
I appreciate the chance to talk about an issue that is both personally and professionally important to me.
As the head of an agency whose mission is to help ensure public safety, I consider the welfare of our young people one of my most important responsibilities. I believe that our ability to protect children is the true test of our effectiveness.
I’m fortunate to work for an Attorney General who believes this as well. Judge Gonzales has said, “There is no greater measure of our nation’s compassion or our humanity as a people than how we protect, raise, and care for our children.” End quote. And he has backed those words with action.
The safety and welfare of children is a concern for everyone in the Department of Justice, and we are mindful of the many challenges you face as you work to prevent harm and to treat those who have suffered.
We’re working with you to meet those challenges, and we’re doing so in many ways.
Through our work with the National Children’s Advocacy Center and the other regional child advocacy centers, we have worked to provide training, technical assistance, and other resources to communities to help them in their efforts to serve child victims. The regional centers also have helped to establish hundreds of local children’s advocacy centers. Today, more than 650 children’s advocacy centers are in various stages of development across the United States.
And through programs like the National Technical Assistance to Child Abuse Professionals Program, run by the National Children’s Advocacy Center, as well as the assistance offered by our partners at the National Children’s Alliance and the National Center for the Prosecution of Child Abuse, we have provided thousands of child-serving and criminal justice professionals with the tools they need to prevent and respond to child abuse. And by the way, many of our partners will be with us in Washington on March 29th, when we mark Child Abuse Prevention Month at an event at the National Press Club.
OJP’s work on behalf of children extends from the prevention of child abuse and the service of child victims to the protection of children.
In addition to serving as the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs, I’m the National AMBER Alert Coordinator. I assume you’re all very familiar with AMBER Alert. Many of you, I’m sure, are intimately involved in your local or state AMBER programs, and you understand what an important tool it has become in enhancing child safety.
Even during a time of growing partnerships, AMBER is unique. There’s no other way to describe a union of law enforcement agencies, broadcasters, transportation departments, private sector companies, and the public.
A few years ago, that might have seemed a strange sort of alliance. But even stranger is the fact that it works. And not only does it work, but it’s become a force in the prevention of crimes against children.
Our partnerships for finding abducted children have expanded tremendously in the four-and-a-half years since President Bush called for national coordination of AMBER Alerts efforts. A perfect example is the Wireless AMBER Alerts Initiative, which enables AMBER Alerts to be sent via cell phones and has given us the potential to reach millions of citizens quickly and directly. Hopefully, you’re all enrolled in this program. If not, I urge you to do so. You can click on the Wireless AMBER Alerts icon on our Web site or go directly to your cell phone carrier.
Also, last year we saw the creation of the AMBER Alert Highway Network. This exciting initiative is a partnership involving the American Trucking
Associations, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and Qualcomm, and it allows AMBER Alerts to be issued directly to trucking carriers, who, after all, are on the road more than anybody.
We’re also extending the reach of the AMBER program. Last July, we held our national AMBER Alert conference in Albuquerque. The focus was on continuing to strengthen our partnership with Canada and on expanding that partnership into Mexico and into our own tribal communities.
Now that all states have AMBER Alert systems, one of our next steps must be to prevent abductors from using our borders as a shield. Through our AMBER Alert working group, we are working with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Mexican federal police to develop strategies for finding children who are abducted and taken into or out of our country. We have seen several promising partnerships between U.S., Canadian, and Mexican authorities. Our goal now is to expand those partnerships.
And we are working closely with tribal officials to bring AMBER Alert to Indian country. Last year, I announced that OJP had set aside five million dollars to implement AMBER Alert plans in tribal communities. These funds, in concert with the plans themselves, will bridge the gap between tribes and state and regional programs across the country.
Thanks to efforts like these, and to greater collaboration and greater awareness, AMBER Alert continues to grow in both size and strength. To date,
324 children have now been recovered through AMBER Alert. And we’re especially proud that, by far, most of those recoveries – more than 90 percent – have occurred since we began coordinating our efforts nationally.
Even more encouraging is the fact that AMBER Alerts are prompting abductors to return abducted children voluntarily. Of the 49 children recovered in 2005,
13 were surrendered by abductors after they heard the AMBER Alert. The ratio was even better last year. Of the 47 recoveries in 2006, 15 were the result of voluntary returns. These numbers are a clear sign that AMBER Alert is not only an effective response system, but also a powerful deterrent.
But our work is far from done. This year began with the abduction in Maryland of three young children by their father after he allegedly murdered their mother. A citizen who had heard the AMBER Alert recognized the suspect’s car and called law enforcement. The suspect led police on a chase with the children still in the car, and while fleeing, he struck one of the police vehicles. Fortunately, the children were safely recovered and the suspect was arrested and charged with murder.
Of course, we always hope to avoid putting children in this kind of danger. But we believe the message is starting to register with would-be abductors that there is no easy way out if they decide to take a child.
We’re building on our efforts under AMBER Alert. Last year, we held a series of 10 regional training sessions for Child Abduction Response Teams, or CARTs, as we call them.
CARTs complement AMBER Alert systems by providing a mechanism for responding to missing children’s cases, even those that don’t meet the criteria for an AMBER Alert. We all know that a child can be in serious danger even if there’s no evidence of an abduction. CARTs will ensure a rapid response to all children who disappear and are believed to be at risk.
The trainings last year, and others that we hope to hold this year, are preparing law enforcement officers and other responders to help investigate missing children’s cases. And they are serving as a springboard to the creation of CARTs in regions throughout the country. Today, there are almost 80 CART programs across the country.
We are constantly seeing the wide utility of AMBER Alert. Unfortunately, this has something to do with the many and varied ways that perpetrators have found to harm children.
One AMBER Alert recovery serves as a case in point. A 32-year-old Alabama man took a 14-year-old girl from her home after meeting her in an online chat room. After the girl was reported missing, an AMBER Alert was issued, and federal and local officials conducted a two-state manhunt. They finally found the abductor, who admitted to having sex with the girl.
This case highlights some of the serious dangers that lurk on the Internet. Our Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children released a report that underscores those dangers. The report tells us that one child in every seven receives a sexual solicitation or approach online.
The good news is that, five years ago, that ratio was one in five. Unfortunately, though, the study found that significantly more young Internet users are exposed to unwanted sexual material. Also, aggressive solicitations have not declined. That means that a child gets a call, mail, money, or gifts from a pedophile, or is somehow asked to meet the solicitor.
And a separate study of child pornographers shows that most pornographers have images of prepubescent children and of graphic depictions of sexual activity. And one in five has images of sexual violence to children.
We’re not talking about harmless expressions of poor taste. These are portraits of shocking crimes against the youngest members of our society.
Last May, Attorney General Gonzales announced a Justice Department initiative called Project Safe Childhood. As many of you know, Project Safe Childhood is aimed at preventing online child exploitation and arresting its perpetrators.
It has two basic components: First, it is designed to help families take precautions against online predators. It includes a program to raise awareness of the threat of cyber-enticement, and provides tools and information to parents and kids to help them report possible violations.
Its second component centers on investigation and enforcement. Our Internet Crimes Against Children, or ICAC, Task Force Program is the heart of this effort.
Right now, we support 46 ICAC task forces throughout the country. The task forces have played a critical role in stopping Internet criminal activity targeting children. Since the inception of the program nine years ago, ICAC task forces have made thousands of arrests. In 2005 alone, ICAC investigations led to more than 1,600 arrests.
The ICAC task forces have brought an end to some of the most vile and violent practices of pedophiles. They also have helped to confirm our darkest suspicions about cyber criminals. So often, the incident or image that prompts an investigation is only the tip of the iceberg. A case of a few pornographic pictures downloaded by a single individual can turn into thousands of images traded across the country. And very often, child pornographers turn out to be vicious sexual predators. The illicit commerce of pornographers can be just the first step in an accelerated march toward sexual violence.
As part of the Administration’s effort to address this problem, President Bush recently appointed Laura Rogers the first head of the new Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering and Tracking Office. The acronym is a little easier: The SMART Office. The purpose of the SMART Office will be to administer the provisions of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, which President Bush signed into law last July.
The Adam Walsh Act gives statutory authority to Project Safe Childhood and enhances our ability to monitor sex offenders. Among its many responsibilities, the SMART Office will administer new standards for sex offender registration and notification. It also will administer any grant programs relating to sex offender registration and notification. And it will provide technical assistance to states and local communities on sex offender registration and on efforts to protect citizens from sexual abuse and exploitation.
Laura brings a wealth of experience as both a prosecutor and trainer. She’ll be here at this conference to impart some of that experience.
Laura and I both believe strongly that our role is to do everything we can to support you in the field. We depend on you to protect our young people from sexual predators and others who would harm them. And we look to you for help in educating families on ways to stay safe, both on our neighborhood streets and in the avenues of cyberspace.
I appreciate the good work that all of you do every day. I thank you for your dedication and professionalism as you deal with these very difficult issues. And I am grateful for your commitment to justice and to the safety of our nation’s children.