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Public Statements

Protect Our Children Act of 2007

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


PROTECT OUR CHILDREN ACT OF 2007 -- (House of Representatives - November 13, 2007)

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Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, just last week we learned that police arrested a senior executive at the National Children's Museum right here in Washington, DC, for distributing child pornography over the Internet. This headline floored me, but it is a good example of a problem that has gotten completely out of control.

The Internet has facilitated an exploding multibillion dollar market for child pornography. Tragically, the demand for this criminal market can only be supplied by graphic new images, and these can only be supplied through the sexual assault of more children. I rise today to urge my colleagues to support H.R. 3845, the PROTECT Our Children Act of 2007.

This bill addresses an issue that is central to the goals of Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the New Direction Congress, and one that should be at the top of everyone's agenda, the protection of our children. Our children deserve a future that is healthy, prosperous, safe, and bright, but our children are vulnerable when they are on line. If this bill becomes law, we have the potential to save many thousands of children from sexual abuse and exploitation.

I want to start by thanking my friend and colleague, Joe Barton of Texas, for working with me on this bipartisan legislation, and for his counsel, his very good counsel, as the lead Republican sponsor of the bill.

In the last Congress, Congressman Barton, then the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, conducted a series of hearings on this topic. Not only did those hearings expose the dearth of Federal resources devoted to investigating and prosecuting child exploitation crimes, but they also brought together an extraordinary group of parents who formed an organization called the Surviving Parents Coalition. In June of this year, I had the opportunity to visit with this very special group of parents.

When I sat down with Mark Lunsford, Erin Runnion, Ed Smart, Marc Klaas, Mary Kozakiewicz, and other founders of the Surviving Parents Coalition, I was not prepared for what they had to tell me. They shared with me their own horrific stories of how their children were abducted by sexual predators. As we all know, some of these children will never come home. As the mother of three young children myself, their stories broke my heart, and as a Member of Congress I felt compelled to act.

What surprised me most about these brave parents was their message about child pornography and child exploitation. What they said was this: If you

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want to prevent predators from hurting other children like ours, the way to do that is to go back through the Internet and get them.

As we learned last month with the apprehension of a child predator in Las Vegas, Nevada, for the first time we have the technology and the evidence not only to find these predators, we have the technology to rescue their victims as well. A 2005 Justice Department study found that 80 percent of child pornography possessors have images and videos of children being sexually penetrated. Another 21 percent possess images of bondage, sadistic abuse, and torture. The children depicted in these photos are very young. Eighty-three percent of child pornography possessors have images of children younger than 12, and another 19 percent possess images of infants and toddlers. There are even Web sites that provide live pay-per-view rape of very young children.

Let me be clear. This is not about obscenity or pornography; these images are crime scene photos, created by a thriving industry that uses children as a sexual commodity.

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I want to thank Chairman John Conyers for holding a hearing on Internet predators in October. At that hearing, Special Agent Flint Waters of the Wyoming State Police, a highly respected child exploitation investigator, testified that right now there are nearly 500,000 identified individuals in the United States trafficking child pornography on the Internet. That's half a million people right here in the United States. And law enforcement knows who they are, and they know where they are.

But what shocked me the most and what compelled me to get involved in this issue is that, due to a lack of resources, law enforcement is investigating less than 2 percent of these known 500,000 individuals. Less than 2 percent.

What was even more shocking is that it is estimated that if we were to investigate these cases, we could actually rescue child victims nearly 30 percent of the time.

It is clear that our current efforts are not working. We need a national campaign with everyone joining the fight: that means the full weight of law enforcement, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Congress, the executive branch, parents and victims advocacy groups and Internet service providers.

Alicia Kozakiewicz, whose testimony at the October Judiciary hearing moved us all, is a living, breathing reminder of the lives that we can save. Alicia is not just a victim; she is a survivor.

Alicia told us how over a period of months she was groomed by a 45-year-old predator pretending to be a teenage girl. When Alicia, who was 13 years old at the time, agreed to meet her cyberfriend in real life, he kidnapped her from her suburban Pittsburgh driveway and held her captive in his Virginia dungeon, where he performed unspeakable sexual acts upon her day after day and broadcast it over the Internet. Just when Alicia told us she had given up all hope, she was finally rescued by FBI agents. The FBI found her because the Virginia Internet Crimes Against Children task force, or ICAC, had the technology to lift the digital fingerprints of this perpetrator's crime and to discover the location where he held her captive, chained to the floor.

The PROTECT Our Children Act will help provide the safety net we so desperately need by creating statutory authority for these highly successful ICAC task forces which support State and local law enforcement agencies. It will supplement this local effort with hundreds of new Federal agents who will be solely dedicated to crimes against children. It will also provide desperately needed forensic crime and computer labs so agents can uncover troves of electronic evidence, locate these perpetrators, and bring them to justice.

Finally, the bill will create a special counsel within the Department of Justice who will be responsible for planning and coordinating our child exploitation prosecution efforts across the Federal agencies.

At the October Judiciary Committee hearing, a representative from the FBI told us two things, Mr. Speaker, that boggled my mind. First, he told us that the number of agents being exclusively assigned to these cases is actually shrinking; and, second, that they are giving millions of dollars that Congress has appropriated to combat child pornography to programs that have nothing to do with child protection. Should we be shrinking critical staffing power and diverting badly needed funds at a time when we are investigating less than 2 percent of known traffickers of child pornography? We can do better, and we must do better.

Mr. Speaker, the time has come to reorder priorities at the Department of Justice, and the PROTECT Our Children Act will do just that. Our mandate here is clear: we must prevent predators from hurting our children.

Again, I want to thank Ranking Member Barton for his leadership, his concern, and his compassion for our children and their safety, not just on this issue but on the Pool Safety bill that we worked together in the 109th and the 110th Congress, and I truly appreciate his leadership and effort on this bill and many others.

Mr. Speaker, this is what Congress can do when we come together in a bipartisan fashion. And maybe it's our children that can be the catalyst for the change that we need in America.

I reserve the balance of my time.

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