DOJ Unveils Project Safe Childhood Initiative

WASHINGTON – Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales announced in a Feb. 15 press release the creation of Project Safe Childhood, an initiative designed to protect children as they navigate the Internet.

In fiscal year 2005, federal prosecutors charged 1,447 child exploitation cases involving child pornography, coercion and enticement offenses against 1,503 defendants.

This year, the Department of Justice (DOJ) will award more than $14 million to the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) program, a national network of 46 regional task forces funded by the Department’s Office of Justice Programs. The ICACs are key partners in Project Safe Childhood.

According to Gonzales’ statement, a more coordinated partnership involving the state, local, and federal law enforcement entities and non-profits involved in Internet safety and the prevention of child exploitation is needed.

Project Safe Childhood will be implemented through a partnership of U.S. attorneys, ICAC task forces, and other federal, state and local law enforcement officials in each district to investigate and prosecute crimes against children facilitated through the Internet or other electronic media and communications devices. According to Gonzales, communities will be able to design and execute programs tailored specially for their individual needs while maximizing national resources and expertise. There are five key components to this initiative:

  • Integrated federal, state and local efforts to investigate and prosecute child exploitation cases: Each U.S. attorney will partner with ICAC task forces that exist within his or her district and other federal, state and local law enforcement partners working in the district to implement Project Safe Childhood. Working with these partners, U.S. attorneys will develop district-specific strategic plans to coordinate the investigation and prosecution of child exploitation crimes; efforts to identify and rescue victims; and local training, educational and awareness programs.
  • Major case coordination by the Criminal Division: The Department’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, in conjunction with the FBI’s Innocent Images Unit, will fully integrate the Project Safe Childhood task forces into pursuing local leads generated from its major national operations.
  • Increased federal involvement in child pornography and enticement cases: Given the beneficial investigative tools and stiffer punishment available under federal law, U.S. attorneys and the federal investigative agencies will be expected to increase the number of sexual exploitation investigations and prosecutions. The goal is to ensure the worst offenders get the maximum amount of jail time possible.
  • Training of federal, state and local law enforcement: Members of the Project Safe Childhood task forces will attend training programs facilitated by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), the ICAC program and other ongoing programs in order to be taught to investigate and prosecute computer-facilitated crimes against children, as well as to pursue leads from national operations and from NCMEC’s CyberTipline and Child Victim-Identification programs.
  • Community awareness and educational programs: Project Safe Childhood will partner with existing national public awareness and educational programs that exist through NCMEC and the ICAC Task Force program in order to raise national awareness about the threat of online sexual predators and to provide the tools and information to parents and youngsters seeking to report possible violations.

While law enforcement at all levels is already working to combat this issue, a more coordinated national effort is needed to maximize resources in order to obtain the strictest penalties available under state or federal law. Sexual predators who target the most innocent and vulnerable of our society, our children, will be relentlessly targeted and prosecuted by the DOJ.

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