(Washington, DC) -- Important child protection legislation has been signed into law by the President, just weeks after passage in the Senate and the House. The PROTECT Our Children Act (S. 1738) drastically increases America’s readiness to combat a multi-billion dollar global child exploitation industry. It creates the largest law enforcement army ever created for the protection of children, with the goal of rescuing thousands of children from on-going exploitation.
“We need to think of this as a war,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL-20). “A war we must wage against sex predators, a war for our children. I fought for the passage of this law so that we could train federal, state and local police forces to lift the digital fingerprints left by child sex predators so they can be put behind bars.”
The PROTECT Act takes a bold step forward in addressing the growing problem of child exploitation. The Department of Justice and the FBI have testified before Congress that child exploitation is growing rapidly. New investigative techniques have allowed law enforcement to identify nearly 500,000 individuals trafficking child pornography over the Internet. Due to the lack of resources at the Federal, state and local level, we are investigating only 2% of the known offenders. Research shows that if we were to investigate these cases we could rescue a victim of child exploitation thirty percent of the time.
“Internet Crimes Against Children task forces all over this country are poised to capture child predators, to put them in a prison cell alongside the man who hurt me,” said Alicia Kozakiewicz, a survivor whose testimony on behalf of the PROTECT Our Children Act was vital to its passage. “They can do it; they want to do it, now we can provide them with real resources to be able to stop child exploitation.”
Specifically, the legislation will authorize $320.5 million over the next five years for:
- Increases in Funding for State-Local Task Forces -- Triples the size of the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) program in year one, supporting the 59 state and local task forces that have become the backbone of America’s war on child exploitation. ($60m/year or total $300m over 5 years.)
- New Dedicated Federal Agents -- Adds hundreds of new federal agents solely dedicated to investigating crimes against children.
- New Dedicated Forensic Crimes Labs -- Gives America’s overwhelmed child exploitation investigators desperately-needed crime labs, easing crippling backlogs. ($2m/year or $10m over 5 years.)
- Creates National Strategy for Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction – Requires DOJ to develop, implement and publish a national strategy to help garner all of our nation’s collective resources to combat this growing problem. The legislation also requires the Department to designate one high-level official responsible for this strategy and to be accountable to Congress.
- Recognizes, Funds and Protects the ICAC Data Network -- Provides legal structure and funding for the ICAC Data Network, which is emerging as a vital national intelligence asset and the nerve center for American law enforcement’s combined efforts to combat a multibillion dollar global child exploitation industry.
The legislation was introduced in the House by Rep. Wasserman Schultz (H.R. 3845) and in the Senate by Senator Joseph Biden (S. 1738) in 2007 after they were approached by the Surviving Parents Coalition and the National Association to Protect Children who outlined the explosion in child exploitation on line, and how to combat it.
“This legislation never would have passed without Rep. Wasserman Schultz,” said Grier Weeks, executive director of the National Association to Protect Children. “These kids needed political muscle, and she gave it to them.”