- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Justice Department yesterday gave $5 million in new funds to Project Safe Childhood, a two-year-old law-enforcement initiative that targets child predators who use the Internet and other technology to sexually exploit children.

The money will fund 43 new assistant U.S. attorney positions nationwide to prosecute suspected offenders, said Deputy Attorney General Mark Filip, who made the announcement during visits to the U.S. attorneys’ offices in Charlotte, N.C., and Lexington, Ky.

“Explicit images of children on the Internet are not only increasing in number, they are becoming more depraved. To be clear: We’re not talking about innocent family snapshots, we’re talking about the most horrific crimes imaginable, like videos depicting the graphic sexual assault of children, and even infants, traded around the world like baseball cards,” Mr. Filip said.

“These are tough cases. They take an emotional toll on investigators and jurors. But we know we cannot stop, because however difficult these cases are for people in law enforcement, it is nothing compared to the suffering of child victims and their families,” he said.

Mr. Filip said the Justice Department set out to marshal the efforts of federal, state and local authorities, as well as nonprofit organizations, “for the sake of these children” and has been encouraged by the success of the program nationwide.

In fiscal 2007, indictments were sought against 2,218 defendants, a 27.8 percent increase over fiscal 2006. Prosecutions in 332 child-exploitation cases also resulted in the forfeiture of more than $5.2 million in assets — a 492.7 percent increase over fiscal 2006.

“As long as there are predators out there acting on their perverse fantasies, creating and trading in these videos and photos, we will not relent,” Mr. Filip said. “These cases will continue to be a priority for the Department of Justice — we want these people to know that we are going after them and that they will pay a high price for their crimes.”

The Charlotte and Lexington offices each received one of the newly created positions, which were awarded on a competitive basis among the many districts with demonstrated records of successfully prosecuting sexual crimes against children. No district was awarded more than one new position.

Project Safe Childhood is a Justice Department program that began in February 2006 as a nationwide initiative designed to protect children from online exploitation and abuse. Led by the U.S. attorneys’ offices, the program pulls together federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute those who exploit children via the Internet, and identify and rescue victims.

When the Justice Department put the program into motion, department officials said it would enhance the national response to a “growing threat” to America’s children, and would allow federal prosecutors nationwide to partner with a national network of regional task forces to target online predators.

The officials noted that at any given time, 50,000 predators are on the Internet “prowling” for children, describing their behavior as “aggressive and graphic.” They said it was “not an exaggeration to say we are in the midst of an epidemic of sexual abuse and exploitation of our children.”

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