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Public Statements

Protect Our Children Act of 2008

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

PROTECT OUR CHILDREN ACT OF 2008 -- (House of Representatives - September 27, 2008)


Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to urge my colleagues to support Senate bill 1738, the PROTECT Our Children Act of 2008.

Mr. Speaker, I don't have to tell you that children today are growing up in a completely different world than we did. Our children have wonderful opportunities to learn in ways that we never had, but there are also dangers our generation never had to consider.

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 images can only be supplied through the sexual assault of more children.

This bill, like its House companion, H.R. 3845, that passed the House overwhelmingly last November, addresses an issue that is central to the goals and vision of Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the New Direction Congress, protecting our children.

The Internet is a truly wonderful tool. It has opened up the world for our children, but it has also opened up our children to the world.

A year ago, in June, I visited with a very special group of parents called the Surviving Parents Coalition, and 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; they told me that if we wanted to prevent predators from hurting other children like theirs, that the way to do it is to go back through the Internet and get them.

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. There are even Web sites that provide live pay-per-view rates of very young children. These images are crime scene photos created by a thriving industry that uses children as sexual commodities.

Special Agent Flint Waters of the Wyoming State Police, a highly respected child exploitation investigator, testified at a Judiciary Committee hearing last year that 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. And make no mistake, law enforcement knows where they are, they just don't have the resources to go get them.

Even more shocking is that it is estimated that if we were to investigate these cases, we could actually rescue a child victim nearly 30 percent of the time.

Think about that. That means there are thousands of children out there in America just waiting to be rescued.

Alicia Kozakiewicz, whose testimony at last October's judiciary hearing moved all of us, is a living, breathing reminder of the lives that we can save. Alicia told us how over a period of months she was groomed by a 40-year-old predator pretending to be a teenage girl. When Alicia, who was 13 years old at the time, agreed to meet her cyber-friend 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 that she had given up all hope, she was 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 crimes and to discover the location where he had held her captive chained to the floor.

The PROTECT Our Children Act will help provide the safety net that we so desperately need by giving us the resources and the coordination we need to bring these predators to justice. It will create statutory authority for these highly successful ICAC Task Forces, which support State and local law enforcement agencies. It will supplement this new 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.

At the October Judiciary Committee hearing, a representative from the FBI told us two things that boggled my mind: First, that the number of agents being exclusively assigned to these cases was actually shrinking, and second, that they are giving millions of dollars that Congress had appropriated to combat child pornography to programs that have nothing to do with child protection.

This bill will set us on a new course by creating a National Strategy for Child Exploitation Prevention. And although I preferred the special counsel provision in the House bill, I am proud to support this measure because this national strategy will ensure that the Federal Government's efforts in this era are no longer disjointed or haphazard. Instead, there will finally be a person in charge at the Department of Justice who will report to Congress and be responsible for real results.

I want to thank my House cosponsor, Ranking Member JOE BARTON, for his leadership, his concern, and his compassion for our children and their safety. And thank you, Senator Biden, for your capable staff and for your tireless work in the Senate. Your skilled negotiations helped us arrive at this moment. Thank you to NCMEC President Ernie Allen and my good friend and colleague from Houston, Congressman Nick Lampson, for your improvements to the bill with the SAFE Act. And honestly, thank you, Oprah Winfrey and all of your viewers for every letter, every telephone call, every fax and every e-mail. You helped break the Senate logjam and proved that Congress is responsive to the people.

Thank you, Erin Runnion, Ed Smart, Mary Kozakiewicz, names that are far too familiar to Americans because of the travesty that happened to their children, and to all the founding members of the Surviving Parents Coalition. When this bill got mired in petty partisan politics, they helped us remember what our effort was really about. It is about Samantha, it is about Elizabeth, and it is about Alicia. It is making sure we rescue every child we can and that we leave none behind. And thank you to Flint Waters for developing the software to locate predators and rescue children. Your work and the work of the ICAC Task Force agents across this country from Broward County, Florida to Wyoming, who wake up every morning, work long hours each day, only to go home at night knowing they don't have the resources or staffing power to rescue every child. The angst that must cause is unimaginable.

Last and certainly not least, I want to commend the inexhaustible determination of Grier Weeks, Camille Cooper, David Keith and all our friends with the National Association to PROTECT Children. They kept our noses to the grindstone and our eyes on the prize. And we would never be here without their effort. They have shown us what we can do when Congress comes together and puts partisan differences aside.


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