Washington, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) joined Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Bob Casey (D-PA), and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) in introducing legislation to confront online child exploitation and reverse a decade of underfunding key enforcement and prevention efforts.
Brown’s legislation, the Invest in Child Safety Act, would direct $5 billion in mandatory funding to investigate and target the pedophiles and abusers who create and share child sexual abuse material (CSAM) online. It would also create a new White House office to coordinate efforts across federal agencies, after DOJ refused to comply with a 2008 law requiring coordination and reporting of those efforts. And it also directs substantial new funding for community-based efforts to prevent children from becoming victims in the first place.
“We have a collective responsibility to protect our children from online predators, and it’s increasingly important as more of our children turn to technology for education and entertainment. This sweeping legislation will ensure the Justice Department has the resources to properly investigate and prosecute online predators, while putting the wellbeing of victims and their families first,” said Brown.
“Dogged reporting put a spotlight on the failures of the executive branch and Congress to respond to disgusting crimes against children that are shared online,” Wyden said. “Our bill will finally provide agencies with enough investigators and prosecutors to confront this menace, fund the organizations who help protect at-risk kids from becoming victims, and provide aid to survivors.”
“Nothing is more heinous than sexual abuse of a child, but our ability to combat these crimes has not kept up with technology. This critical legislation will give federal law enforcement and prosecutors the tools to take on the scourge of child exploitation, prevent its occurrence and support victims and their families,” Gillibrand said.
“Last year, tech companies reported more than 45 million instances of child sexual abuse material being circulated online. The proliferation of these heinous crimes are overwhelming law enforcement agencies and they need support to stop these perpetrators,” said Casey. “The Invest in Child Safety Act would increase the funding to employ more staff and expand resources to help prevent, detect and prosecute sexual abuse crimes against children.”
“Protecting children must be the top priority of policymakers, and we must do everything we can to combat the plague of child sexual exploitation,” said Eshoo. “I’m proud to partner with Senator Wyden to introduce the Invest in Child Safety Act to ensure that Congress provides meaningful funding to support victims and prosecute criminals.”
The House legislation is cosponsored by: Reps. Kathy Castor (D-FL), Ann M. Kuster (D-NH), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), and Deb Haaland (D-NM).
Despite clear congressional mandates, the Justice Department failed to spearhead efforts to address this growing scourge. Instead, the agency’s current budget cuts more than $60 million from programs to prevent child exploitation and support victims.
The bill is endorsed by: The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, National Children’s Alliance, Child Welfare League of America, Center for Democracy and Technology, Family Online Safety Institute, and David Kaye, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Promotion and Protection of Freedom of Expression.
The bill would require a historic, mandatory investment in personnel and funding to take on child exploitation, including:
- Quadruple the number of prosecutors and agents in DOJ’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section from 30 FTEs to 120 FTEs;
- Add 100 new agents and investigators for the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Innocent Images National Initiative, Crimes Against Children Unit, Child Abduction Rapid Deployment Teams, and Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Forces;
- Fund 65 new NCMEC analysts, engineers, and mental health counselors, as well as a major upgrade to NCMEC’s technology platform to enable the organization to more effectively evaluate and process CSAM reports from tech companies;
- Double funding for the state Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Forces;
- Double funding for the National Criminal Justice Training Center, to administer crucial Internet Crimes Against Children and Missing and Exploited Children training programs;
- Increase funding for evidence-based programs, local governments and non-federal entities to detect, prevent and support victims of child sexual abuse, including school-based mental health services and prevention programs like the Children’s Advocacy Centers and the HHS’ Street Outreach Program;
- Require tech companies to increase the time that they hold evidence of CSAM, in a secure database, to enable law enforcement agencies to prosecute older cases;
- Establish an Office to Enforce and Protect Against Child Sexual Exploitation, within the Executive Office of the President, to direct and streamline the federal government’s efforts to prevent, investigate and prosecute the scourge of child exploitation;
- Require the Office to develop an enforcement and protection strategy, in coordination with HHS and GAO; and
- Require the Office to submit annual monitoring reports, subject to mandatory Congressional testimony to ensure timely execution.
A one-page summary of the bill is available here.