President Bush gave his typical welcome to the guests at the Rose Garden ceremony on April 30 just prior to signing historic legislation designed to provide rapid-response mechanisms to protect children from kidnappers, sexual abusers and pornographers. In addition to helping rescue children, the bill seeks to impose stricter penalties on those who sexually abuse children and those who engage in child pornography.
The President’s usual greeting, “I’m glad you all are here,” had dramatic emotional impact as its significance sunk in for him and for the dozens of child advocates in the audience. Several people sitting near me were moved to tears. It was, indeed, a miracle that the guests on the platform with the President were alive, rescued and able to be there at the White House. As he recognized the significance of his words for the special guests on either side of him, the President gulped and glanced to his right where Elizabeth Smart (the fifteen year old girl abducted at knifepoint and then rescued after 9 months in captivity) was standing with her parents and where Amber Hagerman’s mother and brother were standing (Amber was kidnapped and killed when she was nine years old; the Amber Alert is named in her memory.) The President then turned to nod at Tamara Brooks and Jacqueline Marris, the two teenage girls who were rescued through the Amber Alert system after they were abducted and taken into a desert in California.
The Rose Garden was in glorious springtime perfection beautifully manicured gardens of tulips and flowering azaleas were especially magnificent in the early afternoon sunshine. The Brooks, Marris and Smart families were glowing in the joy of the moment and in the happy outcome of their ordeals. In contrast, Donna Norris and her son, Ricky mother and brother of Amber brought the reality that too many abducted children are not rescued and too many do not survive their ordeal. Ricky Norris’ eyes seemed haunted, to me, and Donna Norris struggled with tears throughout the ceremony. The contrast in the circumstance of the special guests was especially moving to me as I watched their reactions to the speeches and to the signing of the legislation.
The Protect Act of 2003 S 151 as it is formally known, will provide federal support for the Amber Alert system and will increase punishment for federal crimes against children. The bill has some serious flaws. Jan LaRue, CWA’s Chief Counsel, points out in her analysis of the bill [www.cwfa.org] that while the bill bans virtual child pornography, there was a provision added in the fine print that “allows the defendant to have the charge dismissed if he proves the material wasn’t made by using a real child that it was made by a computer the very thing the bill is supposedly prohibiting.”
The President pointed out in his remarks that the first few hours after a child is abducted are crucial to the rescue of kidnapped children, the Protect Act funds and empowers an Amber Alert coordinator to set up more effective quick-response networks across the nation.
The President’s remarks emphasized the role of child pornography in inciting abuse and endangering children. He stressed that the new law will strengthen federal penalties for those who perpetuate crimes against children. Perhaps the most important aspect of the bill signing was the President’s acknowledgement of the “evil of child pornography” and his obvious commitment that “our nation will fight threats against our children.”
Recognizing child pornography as evil and committing to protecting children are goals that all citizens regardless of political persuasion should applaud.