THE HONORABLE DEBORAH J. DANIELS
ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL
OFFICE OF JUSTICE PROGRAMS
SOUTH EAST CONFERENCE
ON MISSING AND EXPLOITED CHILDREN
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 2, 2004
WEST PALM BEACH, FL
Good afternoon. Thank you all for coming. It is an honor to be here today among so many of you who labor on behalf of missing and exploited children. I want to extend special thanks to Congressman Mark Foley and his staff, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and our Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention for their efforts in putting together this important conference.
I'd like to start by asking you to do something unusual. Imagine you are a 16 year-old girl. You are kidnapped by an older man who takes you to his house. Once there, he locks you up in a dark, concrete bunker behind the house. You are fed only sparingly, and your captor regularly assaults you. Hours turn into days, days turn into months. You become convinced you will never escape, and wonder if anyone is still looking for you.
Or imagine you are a 14 year-old girl who is sleeping soundly in her bed one night when you are awakened by the feeling of cold steel pressed against your neck. Hovering over you is a man wielding a knife. He threatens to kill you and your family if you scream. For 10 months, he holds you captive and threatens to harm your loved ones if you try to escape. He reminds you that he got into your house, undetected, once, and he can do it again.
Or imagine you are a new mother, just learning how to care for your 6 week-old son who is utterly dependent on you for his every need. Your love for him knows no boundaries. Then one day, tragically, your baby is kidnapped - unbeknownst to you, by his father. You are panic-stricken, distraught. The grief you feel is overwhelming, and you don't know what to do, where to turn.
These are just a few of the many terrible stories about missing and exploited children. I am sorry to report that all three stories are true. But I am pleased to tell you that that all three stories have happy endings. The three abducted children were reunited with their families - all because of the efforts of law enforcement, broadcasters and citizens working together. At the Department of Justice last month, during a ceremony to commemorate Missing Children's Day, we honored these families and the law enforcement officers whose hard work brought these children home.
No doubt you can all think of similar stories in your own careers. The reason we are here today is to learn skills that will help us develop effective responses when children are missing or are exploited. What we learn here this week might prevent tragedies like those I mentioned from ever occurring.
Unfortunately, nearly 800,000 children are reported missing every year. Most child abductions are committed by family members trying to deprive a caretaker of custodial rights.
Non-family abductions total about 58,000 annually. In 98 percent of these cases, children are returned home safely. But many children who are reported missing, even if not abducted in the classic sense of the word, become victims of the streets, preyed upon by unscrupulous, exploitive perpetrators and unable to break free.
Stereotypical kidnappings-that is, a stranger abduction in which a child is transported 50 or more miles, kept overnight, held for ransom or killed -- are relatively rare. Of the 800,000 children reported missing in 1999, the last year for which we have data, 115 were deemed "stereotypical kidnappings". Of these children, tragically, 40 percent were killed; and another 4 percent were not recovered.
Although the good news is that most abducted children are returned safely to their homes, the bad news is that these children and their families suffer tremendously as a result of these experiences. At the Department of Justice, we are committed to trying to stop all exploitation of children-even before it starts. Today, I want to highlight three areas of our work at the Department of Justice that relate to missing and exploited children.
The first is our work on the AMBER Alert. I have the honor of serving as the National AMBER Alert Coordinator. As most of you know, the AMBER Alert's roots lie in the enterprising citizens of Dallas, Texas. After the terrible tragedy of Amber Hagerman's abduction and death in Arlington, Texas, eight years ago, a caller to a Dallas talk show suggested the idea of radio stations broadcasting the news of a child's abduction and descriptions of the possible abductor.
That was in 1996. Today, 134 children have been recovered because of the AMBER Alert and all 48 contiguous states, plus Alaska, have statewide AMBER Alert plans in place. We've come a long way since 2001, when there were only four statewide efforts.
Congratulations to all of you for having statewide plans in place, and continuing to perfect your collaborations and rapid communication with other states.
Three-quarters of the total number of all recoveries - 100 children -- have occurred since October 2002, when the President called on us to make the AMBER Alert a coordinated national effort.
The stunning success of the AMBER Alert is directly related to the unprecedented cooperation of alert citizens and law enforcement, broadcasters, and other partners- most prominently, state transportation officials who have lent their electronic signage to the effort. The southeastern states have already proved they can work together to issue AMBER Alerts across state lines.
In January, a man in Georgia allegedly murdered three former in-laws and his own 10 month-old daughter before abducting his two daughters, ages 3 and 4, and his 10-year-old stepdaughter. Because the alleged abductor was known to be traveling in his car, the state of Georgia asked neighboring states to activate their statewide AMBER Alerts. Two astute citizens, driving back from a vacation in Florida, heard the AMBER Alert on the radio, spotted the abductor's vehicle on the interstate and alerted law enforcement. As we know, the children were recovered safely.
We awarded these two gentlemen the first-ever AMBER Alert Citizens Award just last month, at the DOJ Missing Children's Day ceremony.
As we celebrate these successes, the Department of Justice is continuing to work with an advisory group of experts in the field to continue developing our national strategy. We held two training conferences last year, and brought together AMBER Alert coordinators and teams from every state for the first time.
This year, among other things, we plan to convene a second national training conference, inviting teams from all our states and territories, as we did last year. We also will continue to offer regional and local training, as we are today, to help communities improve their local systems as well as their ability to interact with one another.
The AMBER Alert is now so widely recognized that we have recently seen instances in which a child's abductor has heard the AMBER Alert on the radio or read it on a road sign and, fearing apprehension, has released the child. This is a sign of significant progress. Wouldn't it be wonderful if this happened every time a child was abducted? Or, better yet, that potential abductors would be deterred from acting altogether based on a fear of capture because of the prompt issuance of an AMBER Alert?
At the Department of Justice, we hope to see a day when no more children are endangered by abduction because the AMBER Alert is so effective as a deterrent to would-be perpetrators. With your help, we can work toward this goal.
You may have heard the statistic that 74 percent of all children murdered by their abductor are killed within the first three hours of being taken-and 99 percent are killed within twenty-four hours.
The need to act swiftly on the part of law enforcement, broadcasters and citizens is essential. I commend those of you attending the Chief Executive Officer workshop for police chiefs and sheriffs. I understand you are discussing the importance of having a plan in place for prompt action should a child be abducted.
We're all spending a lot of time and energy -appropriately- carefully to plan a rapid response to potential acts of terrorism. Don't we owe our kids the same careful pre-planning for something that may threaten their lives? By your presence here today, you signify that your answer is a resounding "yes", and we thank you for your personal commitment.
But I should also echo the warning of Bill Hagmaier, a law enforcement expert on this subject, who will tell you that this grim statistic should not cause you to give up the search just because you have not found the child in the first 24 hours. Those children, and their parents, are counting on you - you are their lifeline.
Further, it is vital that law enforcement follow proper criteria for issuing an AMBER Alert. At the request of many state AMBER coordinators, we recently posted on the Department of Justice AMBER Alert web site suggested criteria for issuing an AMBER Alert.
Abductors can travel across state lines very quickly. Some states have different requirements, such as the maximum age of the child, for issuing alerts. We believe that confusion and hesitation could be avoided, and multi-state alerts issued even faster, if states use the suggested uniform criteria. You can visit our web site for a copy of the recommended criteria.
Let me explain that we never want to overuse this vital tool - nor do we ever want to call for a "nationwide" AMBER Alert, which could desensitize the public and cause people to ignore the critical nature of true emergencies. The best analogy I have heard is that voiced by a local sheriff who has likened the situation to hearing a car alarm-we are now so accustomed to them that we don't even turn our heads when one goes off. We never want the public to experience this kind of nonchalance when a child is in danger.
Some of you are taking part in the two-day workshop about developing an effective community response when a child is missing, which includes the AMBER Alert. Those of you taking part in the school resource officers workshop play a tremendous role in educating our children about exploitation and victimization. I know you are all learning valuable information that will help save children's lives.
Our work on behalf of children does not end, however, with improving the AMBER Alert system, or our overall response to reports of missing children. Another area of focus for the Department of Justice has to do with Internet crimes against children.
The Internet is THE marketplace for child pornography today: those who used to ply their trade in the shadows, now do so openly on the brightly lit information super highway. They are leveraging the Internet's technology and anonymity to exploit the most innocent in our society. The Department of Justice is committed to stopping the exploitation and endangerment of children.
Two weeks ago, the Attorney General announced some preliminary results of an operation that was launched last fall, in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security, to crack down on the distribution of child pornography over peer-to-peer file sharing computer networks.
As many of you know, peer-to-peer technology is unlike the ordinary use of the Internet where users link to a main server. Peer-to-peer networks allow users, through installation of file-sharing software, to go online and connect their computers directly to one another. Peer-to-peer network members can access and download files designated for distribution directly on any of the computers that are part of the network.
Peer-to-peer networks, whatever the motivations of their creators, have been used as vehicles for a great deal of illegal activity. This includes the theft and trafficking of music, films and computer game software, as well as, even more ominously, the illegal trafficking of child pornography.
Thirty-nine multi-agency Internet Crimes Against Children task forces, supported by our Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, worked together with the FBI and Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement division to identify suspect computers distributing child pornography through the use of peer-to-peer software over the Internet. To date, a total of 3,371 of these computers have been identified.
This law enforcement operation has opened more than 1,000 domestic investigations into the distribution and possession of child pornography, executed more than 350 searches, and arrested and charged 65 individuals. The investigation continues to be active and ongoing, and we fully expect to see these numbers grow.
As all of you know, these consumers of child pornography often pose an immediate danger to children with whom they come in contact. The following case is illustrative:
After a peer-to-peer investigation by the Nebraska State Patrol, Jeremiah Zalesky of Lincoln, Nebraska, was arrested on state charges of sexually assaulting a child after evidence developed that Zalesky allegedly molested the young daughter of a couple with whom he had been staying. A subsequent search of his computer found 10 images of child pornography.
Several of you are participating in workshops designed to help combat online crimes against children, including the use of the Internet to lure unsuspecting children into exploitive situations. Statistics show that one in five children between the ages of 10 and 17 receives unwanted sexual solicitations online. It is vital that parents fully understand the nature of this threat, and that they learn how to monitor their children's Internet activity.
Some parents, for example, have set up the computer in the kitchen and insist that no child in the house use the computer unless an adult is present. Our children are vulnerable in ways they have never been before, and if parents are not careful, unwanted intruders will enter their homes and gain access to their children through the door of the Internet.
Teenagers are particularly vulnerable to these sorts of predators. Adolescents often suffer from low self-esteem. After a hard day at school, a teen can enter a chat room and receive instant encouragement and praise from strangers-who sometimes turn out to be pedophiles who provide a sympathetic ear as teens complain about their parents or problems with friends.
There is an Internet language that most of our children know and understand. Pedophiles can and do use it to communicate with children online. Children's fingers fly across the keyboard as they type letter combinations such as: "WTGP", which stands for "WANT TO GO PRIVATE?" Or "POS", which warns, "PARENT OVER SHOULDER". Or, perhaps most troubling, "LMIRL", which means "LET'S MEET IN REAL LIFE".
When it comes to protecting our children online, we have many challenges to face and overcome. It is our hope that the workshops about Internet crimes against children will be helpful to you.
The third item I would like to talk about today is the Department of Justice's efforts to combat human trafficking, which includes the trafficking and prostitution of minors.
The trade of trafficking in human beings did not disappear in this country in the 1860s, when slavery was abolished. It thrives, not only in other countries, but also in some areas of the United States, even today. Human trafficking for sex and labor purposes is a booming business-the dark side of globalization. Advances in technology have made it easier than ever to traffic vulnerable women and children.
The mission of the Department of Justice, in concert with other agencies of the federal government, is to eliminate trafficking within the United States and rescue its victims. Our Civil Rights Division, as well as our Criminal Division, is active in identifying and prosecuting those who bring vulnerable victims into this country and imprison them in lives of misery and despair.
OJP's Office for Victims of Crime participates in this effort by providing grant money to organizations across the country to help alien victims of trafficking. Grantees provide much-needed services for victims, such as medical care, housing, legal assistance, counseling and job training.
OJP's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention is working hard to draw attention to the related area of domestic commercial sexual exploitation of children. OJJDP has recently held conferences about the commercial sexual exploitation of children, and has pilot projects under way in two U.S. cities, with the goal of developing local expertise and collaborations among law enforcement, the criminal justice system, and service providers to rescue young victims.
This summer, the Justice Department will host a major training conference about investigating and prosecuting human trafficking and providing services to its victims. Representatives from federal, state and local law enforcement, prosecutors, and non-governmental organizations, including victim service providers, will be invited. The goals of the conference will be to increase knowledge within the leadership of 20 key cities about the crime of human trafficking and its relationship to commercial sexual activity, sexual exploitation, sweatshops, domestic servitude and other criminal activity.
One of the difficulties facing law enforcement today is victim identification. Too often, victims of commercial sexual exploitation are too frightened to contact law enforcement for fear of retribution from their traffickers. And they are often not readily identified as victims by law enforcement and others who encounter them.
For example, too often, at our borders, trafficking victims are viewed as nothing more than illegal aliens, voluntarily seeking entrance to the country - and they are sent back to the clutches of their victimizers rather than being given the help they need to escape them.
We hope the conference will result in the development of teams made up of state and local law enforcement agencies and non-governmental organizations, who can vigorously pursue the traffickers and swiftly identify and rescue the victims.
No child should be treated as a commodity to be bought and sold. Every child deserves the opportunity to be cared for and loved. Every child deserves the opportunity to grow up safe, strong and free. That is our goal. That is why we are gathered here today. On behalf of the Attorney General, I want to commend you for your dedicated efforts on behalf of missing children, and for your commitment to learn more about how you can work together in this noble cause.
Attorney General Ashcroft often points out that, while children may make up only 25% of the population, they make up 100% of our future. Thank you for everything you do, every day, to protect these precious young lives.