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Officials issue national strategy to fight child sex crimes

By Terry Frieden, CNN Justice Producer
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Holder unveils child protection strategy
  • Report says federal prosecutions of child sex crimes are up 40 percent since 2006
  • In 2009, report says, more than 2,400 alleged offenders were indicted
  • Attorney general says new strategy will create database for coordinated case

Washington (CNN) -- With child sex crimes in the United States sharply increasing, federal officials Monday issued a "national strategy" to combat child exploitation in homes, on streets and over the internet.

Top federal law enforcement officials led by Attorney General Eric Holder vowed to take new steps to stem rampant child pornography, online enticements, child prostitution and child sex tourism.

In a detailed report submitted to Congress on Monday, the Justice Department says that since 2006, when the government launched Project Safe Childhood, federal prosecutions have increased by 40 percent, and more than 8,600 defendants have been indicted. More than 2,400 alleged sex offenders were indicted in 2009 alone.

"Tragically, the only place we've seen a decrease is in the age of the victims," Holder said.

Officials said the average age of girls targeted for child pornography is 12 to 14, while the average age of boys targeted is 11 to 13.

The attorney general spoke to a crowd gathered at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Alexandria, Virginia. He was joined by officials from the FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Postal Inspection Service.

Authorities say the national strategy will create a national database to allow agencies to better coordinate their cases, engage in undercover operations, share intelligence and conduct analysis on dangerous offenders and future threats.

A teenage girl identified only as "Melissa" then spoke of her years as a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of her father, from her pre-school days through her elementary school years. Her father has since been imprisoned.

She talked of her suicidal thoughts and self-blame, but said she has been able to overcome much of the trauma. She was praised and applauded by the gathered government officials for her willingness to speak out to help highlight the great personal costs and psychological problems encountered by victims of child abuse.