National

Justice lawyers plan crackdown on sex offenders

WASHINGTON — The Department of Justice released its first-ever national strategy to combat child exploitation and abuse Monday, which calls for a crackdown on the most dangerous sex offenders in the country.

The National Strategy for Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction will assess the threats that children face — including child pornography, online enticement, child sex tourism and commercial sexual exploitation — and outline ways for the federal government to quell abuse.

"Although we've made meaningful progress in protecting children across the country, and although we've brought a record number of offenders to justice in recent years, it is time to renew our commitment to this work. It is time to intensify our efforts," Attorney General Eric Holder said.

Part of the strategy calls for the U.S. Marshals Service to launch a nationwide operation to target the 500 most dangerous, noncompliant sex offenders.

"Together, we are sending an important message: that the U.S. government, and our nation's Department of Justice, has never been more committed to protecting our children and to bringing offenders to justice," Holder said.

According to federal statistics, a report of child abuse is made every 10 seconds, with almost five children dying every day because of abuse.

The 280-page report outlines the steps the department hopes to take and highlights work by federal and state authorities to crack down on abusers. One of the investigations — Operation Cybersafe — identified more than 200 children who were victimized by a group whose members often competed with one another for access to victims. One of the defendants, unnamed in the report, said he'd had sex with more than 500 children.

"You don't understand. You have your work, your hobbies and your family. My thoughts are occupied with kids and sex. When I'm at work I'm looking online for kids; when I get off work at 5:00 (p.m.), I'm online looking for kids for sex; when I wake up in the morning, I'm online looking for sex with kids," the defendant said at a U.S. attorney's office in Illinois.

The department will create a national database to allow authorities on the federal, state, tribal, local and international levels to share intelligence on dangerous offenders. The report also calls for an additional 38 assistant U.S. attorney positions to work on child exploitation cases.

James Hmurovich, the president and CEO of Prevent Child Abuse America, applauded Holder's efforts but said he'd like to see more preventive measures in the strategy.

"I think it's a great enforcement initiative, but what we would like to see, and what we would be willing to help with, is the prevention part," Hmurovich said. "It would be better if (the abuse) never happened."

Hmurovich noted that it costs the United States $104 billion a year to rehabilitate victims of abuse and, often, abuse victims go on to commit crimes or fail to finish their primary education.

"We as a nation have to start realizing that when a child is abused, our country is hurt," he said. "We have to get to a place where there is a national attitude that it is unacceptable to abuse a child."

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