WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Representatives Abigail Spanberger (D-VA-07) and Ben Cline (R-VA-06) introduced bipartisan legislation to strengthen federal efforts to rescue U.S. children from sexual exploitation and abuse, particularly as the number of referrals has plummeted during the pandemic and national sexual abuse hotlines have seen record levels of children using their services during the COVID-19 crisis.
In 2008, President George W. Bush signed the PROTECT Our Children Act into law, which required the U.S. Attorney General to create and implement a National Strategy for Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction and to appoint a high level official to coordinate that strategy. Additionally, the Act required that an updated strategy be submitted to Congress on a biannual basis. However, in the 11 years since the Act became law, only two such reports have been developed. Compounding this issue is that proactive investigations — which are regarded as the best tactic to interdict child sexual predators and prevent predictable future abuse — have steeply declined in recent years, as law enforcement has struggled to respond to an exponentially growing number of CyberTips.
To address these gaps amid rising rates of unreported instances of child abuse and exploitation, Spanberger and Cline’s Child Response to Exploitation and Sexual Abuse of Children in Unaddressed Emergencies (RESCUE) Act would require the U.S. Attorney General to establish a national commission to study proactive strategies and necessary resources for the rescue of children from sexual exploitation and abuse online. This commission would bring together experts from the federal government — including the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security — and the private sector to create a nationwide strategy and identity how best to respond to a changing landscape, including the new dangers brought about by COVID-19, and prevent child abuse across the country.
“The safety of our children should be our number-one priority. The sexual abuse and the sexual exploitation of children are horrific crimes, and we should pursue all avenues to combat these crimes, eliminate images of exploitation from the internet, and prosecute those who engage in these activities,” said Spanberger. “For years, the Department of Justice has been required to engage directly on these issues, but its efforts have been woefully inadequate. Local child protective services and law enforcement agencies, though working tirelessly around the clock to protect kids and families, are not equipped for the new range of challenges. Our bipartisan Child RESCUE Act is a necessary step towards rescuing children from dangerous and traumatic living situations across our country through a federal, coordinated strategy. I’d like to thank Congressman Cline for co-leading this critical effort to protect more of Virginia’s children.”
“For several years, I have supported the great work of the Bedford, VA based Southern Virginia Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, one of over 60 task forces combating online child predators across the country,” said Cline. “I am proud to join this bipartisan effort to establish a new working group to develop additional proactive solutions that will protect our nation’s youth and safeguard them from these heinous online predators.”
The bipartisan Child RESCUE Act is supported by several child protection and anti-exploitation advocacy organizations, including the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), the National Association to Protect Children, and the National Criminal Justice Training Center.
“The growing demand for child sexual abuse imagery is alarming,” said Scott Berkowitz, President, RAINN. “The Child RESCUE Act importantly focuses on ‘dual offenders,’ who both possess illegal images of children and are also perpetrators of sexual violence. The focused working group it would establish would quickly develop victim-centric protocols to help ensure prompt investigation and rescue of children. We thank Reps. Spanberger and Rep. Cline for their leadership and urge Members of Congress to support this bill, which grows ever more critical as the nation continues to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and the isolation it has caused for vulnerable children.”
“For over a quarter century, the National Criminal Justice Training Center of Fox Valley Technical College has provided national training and technical assistance to the law enforcement and child protection community in the areas of child abuse and exploitation. We support all efforts to address the increased levels of online exploitation and the growing threat posed by perpetrators who use technology to identify, access and exploit vulnerable children and adolescents,” said Brad Russ, Executive Director, National Criminal Justice Training Center. “ We applaud the efforts of Representative Spanberger and Representative Cline to establish a national working group to evaluate the current areas of need and provide recommendations for improving our response to the threats posed by the most dangerous child offenders.”
“This is not just a fact-finding commission, it’s a truth-telling bill commission,” said J. Christian, CEO, National Association to Protect Children. “It’s long past time we faced the truth about how many American children are waiting for rescue out there.”
Specifically, the Child RESCUE Act would establish a national working group — to be known as the U.S. Commission on Children in Imminent Danger — to study proactive policing strategies and resource needs to rescue children in the United States who are victims of child sexual abuse material or victims of sexual abuse by individuals who are also engaged in child sexual abuse material crimes.
Click here to read the full bill text.
In Virginia, anyone can report suspected child abuse or neglect to their local department of social services or the Child Protective Services Hotline at (800) 552-7096.