US attorney launches Take 25 child safety initiative

By Vic Micolucci, General assignment reporter, vic@wjxt.com
Published On: May 30 2014 12:38:04 PM EDT
Updated On: May 30 2014 08:07:42 PM EDT

State, federal, and local officials announced their new approach to prosecuting child sex predators and help combat the dangers kids face online.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

Federal, state and local law enforcement agencies came together to observe National Missing Children's Day by announcing the "Take 25" child safety campaign.

The national "Take 25" campaign encourages parents to take 25 minutes to talk to their children about safety and ways to prevent abduction.

"Human traffickers, they target runaways, they target run young girls who might have some type of vulnerability and they exploit them," said Deborah McCarley of the FBI. "They might even pose as a want to be a boyfriend and then manipulate these teens into a life of prostitution and into the commercial sex trade."

Authorities urge adults to have the talk in class, on the playground, dinner time or bedtime -- saying taking the time can make a difference.  The program provides age-specific suggestions to help direct the conversation. (Take25.org)

“Child predators are using more cunning and persuasive techniques to lure and exploit innocent children,” said U.S. Attorney Lee Bentley, III. “It is up to us, as a community, to educate and protect our children from these hidden dangers -- online and elsewhere.”

In this digital age, dangers of children be exposed to predators is even greater.

"When I was growing up we learned of stranger danger and don't get into a car with a stranger on the corner," said Mark Caliel of the state attorney's office. "Now our children are a key stroke or a mouse click away from possible predators."

Diena Thompson, who has made it her mission to protect children since her 7-year-old daughter Somer was abducted, raped and killed, says Take 25 is a step in the right direction.

"A child in the United States under the age of 18 disappears every 46 seconds. That sounds like a pandemic to me," Thompson said. "It's absolutely the most important conversation that you'll ever have with them. And it's never too young to have this conversation. We should be having these conversations."

In 2006, Project Safe Childhood was launched by the Department of Justice as a unified and comprehensive strategy to combat child exploitation by combining law enforcement efforts, community action and public awareness. It marshals federal, state, and local resources to better locate, apprehend, and prosecute individuals, who exploit children via the Internet and to identify and rescue victims. The goal of Project Safe Childhood is to reduce the incident of sexual exploitation of children.

From Oct. 1, 2010 through Sept. 30, 2013, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Florida with the assistance of numerous other agencies brought 292 Project Safe Childhood cases against 297 people. The charges in those cases vary by defendant, but they include conspiring to travel in interstate commerce to engage in illicit sexual conduct, production of child pornography, distribution and receipt of child pornography, and possession of child pornography. In addition, the MDFL has prosecuted numerous cases involving human trafficking, where individuals, including minors, were forced to commit commercial sex acts.

Children of all ages are victimized by child pornography producers, from as young as infants and toddlers to adolescents. About half of the victims are younger than 12 years of age. NCMEC reports that 24 percent of identified victims were pubescent, and 76 percent were prepubescent.

Law enforcement agencies participating Friday’s event included the FBI; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations; the Naval Criminal Investigative Service; the Florida Department of Law Enforcement; State Attorney’s Office (Fourth Judicial Circuit); and the Jacksonville, Clay County and St. Johns County sheriff’s offices.

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