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Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales today joined U.S. Attorney Michael J. Sullivan to highlight the ongoing efforts of federal, state and local law enforcement in combating the sexual abuse and exploitation of children in Massachusetts. "The horrors of sexual exploitation and abuse are all too real for hundreds of children across the nation," stated Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales. "I am calling on law enforcement, community leaders and the citizens of Massachusetts to take up the fight to save our children. I applaud the work of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Massachusetts, whose tireless efforts have led to increased prosecutions and stronger sentences against sexual predators in the Commonwealth."

Attorney General Gonzales was also joined in today's roundtable by the Massachusetts Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force Director, Massachusetts State Police Captain Tom Kerle, and other members of the Project Safe Childhood initiative for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Launched in May 2006, Project Safe Childhood is a nationwide initiative designed to protect children from sexual exploitation and abuse. Led by the U.S. Attorneys Offices, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the Internet, as well as identify and rescue victims.

Last year, the Department of Justice prosecuted 1,543 cases involving the sexual exploitation or abuse of children. To ensure maximum prison sentences for sexual predators in Massachusetts, the U.S. Attorney's Office provides training for local prosecutors about federal laws and sentences and works collaboratively with District Attorneys and the Massachusetts Attorney General to refer appropriate cases for federal prosecution. As a result, the U.S. Attorney's Office has seen a 300% increase in referred cases, including cases from Plymouth, Essex, Middlesex and Suffolk Counties. The prosecution of child exploitation cases has been a long held priority of U.S. Attorney Sullivan. In 2002, four years prior to the national launch of Project Safe Childhood, the U.S. Attorney's Office created a position and hired an experienced, specially trained prosecutor to be dedicated solely to the prosecution of child exploitation cases. The number of child exploitation prosecutions has consistently increased—from five in 2000 to 18 in 2006.

"Nothing is more important than protecting our children from predators," said U.S. Attorney Sullivan. "The U.S. Attorney's Office and our federal, state and local law enforcement partners are committed to doing whatever we can—through enforcement and educational outreach—to provide that protection. Child predators should not to be lulled into thinking they are safe from law enforcement detection by the perceived anonymity of the Internet. We will find you and use every resource at our disposal to ensure you won't harm again."

Project Safe Childhood partners for the District of Massachusetts include: the Massachusetts Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force; Massachusetts Attorney General's Office; Plymouth County District Attorney's Office; Essex County District Attorney's Office; Suffolk County District Attorney's Office; Middlesex County District Attorney's Office; the Massachusetts State Police; the FBI; ICE; U.S. Postal Inspection Service; and U.S. Secret Service.

In addition to participating in the law enforcement roundtable, Attorney General Gonzales also unveiled a new series of Public Service Announcements (PSAs) regarding online sexual exploitation. The ads, which were developed jointly by the U.S. Department of Justice, National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), and the Ad Council, are designed to educate teenage girls about the potential dangers of posting and sharing personal information online. The Think Before You Post campaign reminds teens that anything you post online, anyone can see, family, friends and even not-so-friendly people.

Popular social networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook, and Sconex make it easier for teens to post and share personal information, pictures, and videos, which may make them more vulnerable to online predators. Teenage girls are particularly at risk of online sexual exploitation. A recent study by University of New Hampshire researchers for NCMEC found that of the approximately one in seven youth who received a sexual solicitation or approach over the Internet, 70 percent were girls.http://www.missingkids.com

For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.projectsafechildhood.gov. For more information about the Think Before You Post campaign, please visit http://www.cybertipline.com


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