Regina B. Schofield, Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs
Crimes Against Children Conference and ICAC Training Conference
August 21, 2006
Thank you, Bob [Flores].
And thanks to the OJJDP staff for their leadership and hard work on behalf of our nation's children. In particular, I want to thank Ron Laney, the Associate Administrator of JJ and the Director of its Child Protection Division. I'm grateful for all that he and his staff do.
It's a pleasure to follow Attorney General Gonzales. Judge Gonzales has made the protection of children one of his priorities, and he is committed to doing everything in his power to help you keep children safe. My agency, the Office of Justice Programs, is proud to support him in those efforts.
Through the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force Program and other initiatives, we are working to give law enforcement agencies the tools and resources they need to stop criminals from preying upon our children.
Since 1998, our Juvenile Justice office has supported ICAC task forces across the country. And those task forces have arrested thousands of child pornographers and sexual predators.
One of those arrests came in March, when an investigation by the San Diego ICAC Task Force led authorities to the convalescent center of a children's hospital.
Our dedicated partners at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children tipped off investigators by identifying a respiratory therapist at the hospital as a distributor of child pornography. When they got to his computer, they found tens of thousands of still and video images. The images showed the suspect having sexual relations with children, many of them very young. When he was asked how many children he had molested, his chilling response was, "How many snowflakes are there out there?"
This case is just a snapshot of what can happen in almost any child pornography investigation.
So often, what prompts an investigation is only the tip of the iceberg. A few pornographic pictures downloaded by a single individual turn into thousands of images traded across the country. And often, child pornographers turn out to be more than just harmless peddlers of a distasteful product. In many cases, they are vicious sexual predators. The illicit commerce of pornographers can be just the first step in an accelerated march toward sexual violence.
When you, our law enforcement officers, shut down a pornography ring, you're not just stopping a couple of perverts from exchanging dirty pictures. You're preventing a potentially violent criminal from carrying out his worst designs.
I truly regret that anyone has to investigate these disturbing crimes. I wish it were otherwise. Sadly, though, these criminals are not just going to go away. In fact, if anything, they're getting bolder.
Let me give you a few statistics:
Judge Gonzales referenced the report just released by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and my Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. As he mentioned, it tells us that one child in every seven receives a sexual solicitation or approach online. Five years ago, that ratio was one in five. We can attribute our progress to better education and awareness.
Unfortunately, though, the study found that significantly more young Internet users are exposed to unwanted sexual material: Thirty-three percent of 10- to 17-year-olds, compared with 25 percent five years ago.
Also, aggressive solicitations have not declined. One child in 33 is the object of an aggressive solicitation. That means that he or she gets a call, mail, money, or gifts from a pedophile, or is somehow asked to meet the solicitor.
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. And sadly, this practice is widespread and growing.
That's the bad news. The good news is that we're sending help.
The Attorney General's Project Safe Childhood has two 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 is support of investigation and enforcement efforts. And this is where the ICAC task forces come in.
The Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force Program is the foundation of Project Safe Childhood. Right now, 46 task forces are in operation throughout the country. These task forces are supported by funding from the Office of Justice Programs.
The task forces have played a critical role in stopping Internet criminal activity targeting children. Since the inception of the program eight years ago, ICAC task forces have made more than 7,300 arrests. In 2005 alone, ICAC investigations led to more than 1,600 arrests and more than 6,000 forensic examinations.
These task forces have been pivotal in shutting down online operations that prey upon the young. The Illinois ICAC task force was involved in closing down an international child pornography ring earlier this year. Among the thousands of images that had been traded were streaming videos of live molestations. Twenty-seven defendants from four countries have been charged in that case.
And just to give you an idea of how challenging cases like that can be, that investigation involved 12 Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices, plus state, county, and local law enforcement agencies, plus prosecutor offices in two states, not to mention local, provincial, and national agencies in Canada, Australia, and Great Britain. Moreover, nine U.S. Attorneys' Offices are prosecuting cases resulting from the investigation. Clearly, the assistance and coordination that ICACs provide are crucial to resolving these cases.
And I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the vital roles that the FBI, ICE, and the Postal Service have played in taking down online operations. FBI's Innocent Images Program, ICE's Operation Predator, and the Postal Service Inspection Unit have worked together to arrest thousands of online predators across the country and throughout the world.
Not all cases are so wide in scope, but all of them are challenging in their own right.
Closer to where I live, back in Virginia, an ICAC task force in Bedford County caught a 40-year-old diplomat from the United Arab Emirates. The diplomat had chatted online with a 13-year-old girl, sending sexually explicit comments and asking, in graphic terms, for sexual favors.
He finally arranged a meeting with the girl. But when he arrived at the appointed spot, he was met by deputies from the sheriff's office. As it turns out, the girl was actually one of the deputies. The diplomat was arrested and charged, but officials were forced to release him after he requested diplomatic immunity. He has since left the country, and you can bet that leaving has done nothing to curb his activities.
That case is a good example of the kind of obstacles you're likely to run into. The Internet has obliterated barriers. For the most part, that's a good thing. We have instant access to information, and we can stay in easy touch with our friends and family. But it also means that predators have instant access to our children.
We at the Office of Justice Programs recognize how painstaking you need to be when investigating these cases. We also know that this kind of work can be as unsettling as anything you do.
We're committed to supporting you in your work. This year, we provided $14 million to help ICAC task forces. Project Safe Childhood adds to our financial commitment the promise that we at the federal level will do all we can to work with and support you.
Just as he did with Project Safe Neighborhoods, the Attorney General has directed every U.S. Attorney to develop a community strategy. Those strategies include steps for involving community partners, increasing federal prosecutions, training law enforcement officers, and coordinating education initiatives. In addition, the U.S. Attorneys will be required to report on their progress every six months.
The Attorney General is serious about going after these perpetrators. In fact, he has issued a challenge to the ICAC task forces, urging them to, quote, "investigate and prosecute more sexual predators and child pornographers than ever before."
I want to second that challenge, and to back it up with a deal: You focus your efforts on bringing child pornographers and sexual predators to justice, and we'll make sure you get the support you need to do it.
Vigilance is the buzz word when it comes to cyber-enticement cases. Pedophiles and pornographers have found creative ways of getting to children and of sharing their conquests with their peers. And as long as they're able to communicate, they'll feed off of one another's sicknesses, and the violence of their acts will escalate.
It's up to you to stop them. The making and distributing of child pornography is bad enough. Unfortunately, often that's only the beginning.
The Office of Justice Programs and the Department of Justice want to help you put an end to this despicable and sadistic practice, and to make sure that online predators are punished appropriately. I hope that you will answer the Attorney General's call to widen your net of activity.
I thank you for your commitment. I appreciate your hard work. And I am truly grateful for all that you do to protect our children.