Protecting our children from harm

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By Congressman Bob Goodlatte

The victimization of children is a tragic epidemic in our society. According to some statistics, 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 10 boys are sexually exploited before they reach adulthood and this problem is further exacerbated by the number of children who are solicited and exposed to inappropriate material online. According to the Department of Justice, 1 in 7 children, ages 10 to 17, receive unwanted sexual solicitations online. I believe we must do everything within our power to stop this travesty, and protect our children from those who seek to victimize them.

In 1996 the U.S. Congress passed, with my support, legislation that was designed to protect children from pornography on the Internet. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court overturned this law contending that it was written too broadly, and amounted to an unconstitutional restriction of free speech. Again in 2003 the Congress passed, with my support, bipartisan legislation designed to protect children from exploitation and abuse. Specifically, the Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to End the Exploitation of Children Today Act, also known as the PROTECT Act, created a national Internet site with information on registered sex offenders and a cyber tip-line for reporting online child exploitation, reformed federal sentencing guidelines in regards to crimes against children and reauthorized the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and Children Advocacy Centers.

Additionally, this comprehensive legislation authorized criminal prosecution of child pornographers. This important provision was included since the Supreme Court had struck down previous attempts to do the same thing. Once again the case was taken to the Supreme Court and just a few weeks ago the court handed down a 7-2 decision upholding the constitutionality of the PROTECT Act, thus preventing child pornographers from hiding behind First Amendment considerations. This is a very positive development.

The majority opinion concluded: “Child pornography harms and debases the most defenseless of our citizens. Both the State and Federal Governments have sought to suppress it for many years, only to find it proliferating through the new medium of the Internet. This Court held unconstitutional Congress's previous attempt to meet this new threat, and Congress responded with a carefully crafted attempt to eliminate the First Amendment problems we identified. As far as the provision at issue in this case is concerned, that effort was successful.”

This recent Supreme Court decision is a real victory for America’s children, who deserve every protection we can afford them. We cannot allow violent criminals to continue to prey on our children and as a parent, I was pleased to support the PROTECT Act and I applaud the U.S. Supreme Court for upholding this necessary legislation which ultimately seeks to guarantee the safety we so desire for our children.