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Senate Subcommittee Addresses Efforts to Protect Children

On April 16, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs held a hearing, “Challenges and Solutions for Protecting our Children from Violence and Exploitation in the 21st Century.” The hearing addressed the Combating Child Exploitation Act of 2007 (S.1738), sponsored by Chair Joseph Biden (D-DE), which would authorize $1.05 billion over the next eight years to enhance the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Grant Program, increase the number of federal agents dedicated to child exploitation cases, and increase the capacity of forensic computer labs.

Sen. Biden said, “We are here to discuss one of government’s most solemn obligations, maybe the most solemn obligation government has, which is to protect our children. And in particular, protect them from violence and exploitation…According to recent studies, online child pornography has increased by 1,500 percent just since 1997, and [there are] over 10,000 child pornography websites worldwide. Child pornography has become a $3 billion industry. And we are not talking about morphed images of adults posing as underage teens. We are talking about sadistic, violent movies depicting the actual abuse…According to a study by the NCMEC [National Center for Missing and Exploited Children], 83 percent of child pornography possessors had images of children between ages six and twelve. Thirty-nine percent of the possessors had images of children between [ages] three and five. Now I am not talking about the image of a child three to five in a provocative position. I am talking about sex acts being performed on a child three to five years old. Nineteen percent of the possessors had images of infants and toddlers under the age of three, and 21 percent depicted violence, such as bondage, rape, or torture.” He continued, “The problem continues to grow. Last week the Center handled 580,000…reports of child exploitation…The bottom line is that we are not making much of a dent in this problem…Due to [the] lack of resources, we have not been making the progress that we should. What makes this problem even more inexcusable is that when we do investigate these cases, we have a 30 percent chance of rescuing a child from ongoing abuse, that’s the statistic…In my view, we have not dedicated enough federal agents to this problem, we have not provided enough support for local law enforcement agencies in order for them to better do their job.”

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) said, “Although the scope of the problem and the havoc it wreaks in the lives of abused children and their parents is extremely distressing, I am encouraged by the fact that in the past we have addressed this crime successfully and we can do so again. I was a federal prosecutor when President [Ronald] Reagan undertook and addressed his efforts on child pornography cases. It was one of the most successful initiatives ever and was greatly enhanced by the Supreme Court’s ruling…in New York v. Ferber, [which] held that the possession of child pornography is, effectively, a crime per se [that] removes a prosecutor’s burden of establishing community standards and other complexities of pornography cases. So possession cases were, therefore, much easier to prosecute, and the federal government had only to show that a defendant knowingly possessed a sexually explicit image of a minor that had been shipped in interstate commerce. But this was before…the real explosion of the Internet. Modern distribution networks over the Internet present law enforcement with serious challenges as one pedophile trades child abuse photographs with another pedophile, [at times] under the cover of computer file laws and other times sent through the mail once they communicate with one another and identify with one another.”

Sen. Sessions added, ”I would note that when Congress first passed the [Child Pornography Prevention Act of 1996], we eliminated child pornography from almost every bookstore…But then it went underground, [as demonstrated] in this situation…It is an Internet-driven problem today…I am encouraged by technical advances in the investigative techniques used in some child pornography cases. These techniques allow law enforcement officers to target and arrest the most serious distributors of child pornography.”

Flint Waters, lead agent for the Wyoming Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, said, “We…have developed child exploitation investigation software…Our system, known as ‘Operation Fairplay,’ is housed by the state of Wyoming and used throughout the world. It is a comprehensive computer infrastructure that gives law enforcement the tools they need to leverage the latest technologies to identify and track those who prey on children, just as the offenders use technology to identify and track the children that would be their prey. The Wyoming system has enabled law enforcement to begin to bring into focus a picture of the staggering magnitude of child pornography trafficking today. Along the way, we have learned a great deal about how law enforcement can effectively fight back, interdicting hundreds of thousands of criminals and rescuing countless children…Through this system, we are able to deliver solutions that help investigators working peer-to-peer, chat room, online gaming, and mobile phone undercover operations. With the rise of the Internet, child pornography trafficking has exploded, both commercially and non-commercially. I want to emphasize at the start the importance of responding to this problem with a multi-pronged attack. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, through its CyberTip hotline, is serving the critical task of receiving the 911 calls for help from citizens and Internet service providers (ISPs). As you know, having someone there to respond to these reports of suspected criminal activity is essential if we hope to make use of this valuable resource.” Of course, it is also essential that law enforcement include state and local law enforcement agencies, the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, the FBI Innocent Images Initiative, the Department of Homeland Security, and the US Postal Inspection Service be ready not only to respond to these public reports, but to aggressively mount a proactive attack as well.”

Randy Hillman, executive director of the Alabama District Attorney’s Association, said, “In the past 50 years, there have been two major watershed events in the criminal justice arena, the advent of the science of DNA and that of digital storage and communication devices. While DNA is relevant in many investigations, its impact pales in comparison to the numbers of criminal cases in which digital evidence is found. We are trained and skilled at investigating robbery cases, murders, rapes, and other similar crimes. Yet, too often, when a call comes into that same department that a child has been cyber-stalked by a sexual predator via some communication device, the caller is met with silence. While some larger law enforcement departments have available resources to handle these cases, the majority of other agencies are caught short. Simply put, we know about blood and bullets, but we are sorely lacking in our ability to deal with megabytes and megapixels. The most glaring disconnect in the push to eliminate child predators lies in our lack of training. This is due to two equally important factors, cost of training and availability of training…If properly trained, we would be a potential investigative army striking at the core of the most vile of all criminals — those who exploit and prey on children. The National Computer Forensics Institute (NCFI) was created as a solution to the lack of cyber-crime training for law enforcement, prosecutors, and trial judges throughout the United States…The NCFI is a partnership of federal, state, and local governments who recognized the huge void in this area and joined together to solve the problem…Because the NCFI was designed by law enforcement for law enforcement, because we have a brand new state-of-the-art facility designed exclusively for this type of training, because this training is free of charge to all participants, and because this is our sole function, I am convinced that the NCFI is the best tool this nation has to fill the training gap that currently exists for state and local law enforcement regarding child exploitation and child predator cases.”

Michelle Collins, executive director of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), said, “For 24 years NCMEC has operated under congressional mandate to serve as the national resource center and clearinghouse on missing and exploited children. This statutory mandate includes specific operational functions, including a national 24-hour toll-free hotline; a distribution system for missing-child photos; training of federal, state, and local law enforcement; and our programs designed to help stop the sexual exploitation of children. As recognition of the prevalence of child sexual exploitation has grown over the years, so has the range of services offered by NCMEC to address this problem, many of them in direct response to congressional requests.”

Ms. Collins continued, “Our longest-running program to prevent the sexual exploitation of children is the CyberTipline, the national clearinghouse for leads and tips regarding crimes against children on the Internet. Mandated by Congress, the CyberTipline is operated in partnership with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Department of Homeland Security’s Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Forces (ICAC), the U.S. Secret Service, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, as well as other state and local law enforcement [agencies]. We receive reports regarding seven categories of crimes against children: possession, manufacture and distribution of child pornography, online enticement of children for sexual acts, child prostitution, child-sex tourism, child sexual molestation (not in the family), unsolicited obscene material sent to a child, and misleading domain names. The CyberTipline is a major source of leads for law enforcement and streamlines the process from detection of sexual exploitation to prosecution and conviction. This process increases the efficiency of law enforcement’s efforts and maximizes the limited resources available in the fight against child exploitation. However, innovations such as webcams and social networking sites are increasing the vulnerability of our children when they use the Internet. The use of the Internet to victimize children continues to present challenges that require continual adjustment of our tools and methods. This problem is so vast that we must attack it from multiple angles. While law enforcement is tireless in its efforts, NCMEC contributes to the fight by combining its expertise with its relationships with industry leaders. We are bringing together key business, law enforcement, child advocacy, and governmental leaders to explore ways to more effectively address these new issues and challenges. I cannot overemphasize the need for increased funding of all the law enforcement programs at the local, state, and federal level.”

McGregor Scott, attorney (CA), and Grier Weeks, executive director of the National Association to Protect Children, also testified.

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