Immigration policy, once thought of as almost purely a federal government issue has, in the past several years, become one of increasingly local concern. During the 2016 presidential election cycle in particular, the complicated policy issues surrounding the undocumented population became oversimplified and were reduced to sound bites about “criminal aliens,” “sanctuary cities” and fears of imminent terrorist attacks on the “homeland.”
The candidate who became president called for the building of a physical barrier between the United States and its southernmost neighbor, and the creation of a deportation force to swiftly exclude those who made it into the United States without a legal immigration status, stoking fears among some of our most egregiously underserved groups, including noncitizen children and children with undocumented parents.
Throughout this period, the immigration conversation focused largely on adults who might do harm to the United States. Discussions about children were had primarily in the context of their parents’ status, and the threat to youth who benefited from DACA, the Deferred Action for Undocumented Childhood Arrivals program implemented under the Obama administration.
The tenor of the policy debate rarely, if ever, touched on the effect that draconian immigration policy may have on children who are at risk of, or already involved in, the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. These two layered and complex systems become even more so when one adds the specter of adverse immigration actions (detention or deportation) directed at either a noncitizen child, or children who are U.S.-born, but who have an undocumented parent (i.e., mixed-status families).
Who are these children and youth?
During any given calendar year, the majority (well over 65 percent) of undocumented children come from Mexico and Central America, about 10 percent come from East Asia and the Pacific, just over 10 percent come from Europe, eight percent from Africa, eight percent from the Middle East and South Asia, and just over four percent come from Southeast Asia. Most will come with, or develop, deep and ingrained fears about interacting with official agencies. Or, worse yet, they will have been rendered invisible to public systems by adults who seek to exploit them. And if fortunate enough to live with a parent or caring adult, the suspicion or fear of authorities could delay or deny children in these families the services or supports they may need.
Why should child welfare and juvenile justice systems care about immigration policy?
Immigration policy touches a large percentage of young people in the United States. Twenty-three percent of children in the U.S. are either immigrants or children of immigrants. While many of them may have been born in the United States, some have parents who do not have legal immigrant status; and some of the children are themselves without legal status. And immigrant children, whether documented or not, are among the most vulnerable.
Those who are unaccompanied by an adult when they immigrate (“unaccompanied minors”) may be victimized by smugglers who bring them to the United States to work as domestic servants, restaurant or factory workers, or to engage in drug-trafficking or sex work. Government estimates of people trafficked into the United States range widely, from 14,000 to 50,000 each year. The State Department estimates that up to half of trafficking victims are minors.
Since they are often marginalized, or “invisible” to public systems, these young people are particularly high-need. They are more likely to live in poverty, less likely to have health insurance and are more likely to encounter barriers to accessing public benefits and social services. Further, since many are fleeing economic deprivation, political violence or unrest in their home countries, immigrant youth are also more likely to have suffered trauma. And certainly, the immigration process itself, particularly if done illegally, comes with its own stressors and associated trauma.
Additionally, families with one or more adult who are undocumented are no less susceptible to the challenges that lead to child abuse and neglect, domestic violence, mental and behavioral health issues, or delinquency. While these challenges might, under the best of circumstances, lead a family to seek out supports and services, this is less likely to happen in a household where adults or children do not have legal immigrant status. Predictably, the needs could become more acute, and the triggering event that leads to system involvement could be more severe.
There are currently no reliable data about youth in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems. Despite our knowledge about the existence of this population of high-need children and youth, child welfare and juvenile justice systems still have no reliable data about them. This state of ignorance is worsened by the fact that most systems lack the resources to implement this kind of data collection, may not view that information as relevant or simply recognize that in the current highly politicized immigration policy climate, this information could imperil the same families and young people they seek to serve.
Action steps for youth-serving systems
As the immigration debate plays out on the national stage, the needs of undocumented youth and children or youth and children from mixed-status families continues to grow. So, at a minimum, youth-serving systems now have a duty to investigate whether they are adequately serving this population. At a minimum, systems should:
- Determine the scale and scope of the issue in their communities. Since undocumented children, youth and families are adept at maneuvering through society largely undetected, they may present as yet another child, youth or family in need. Systems may then see a reluctance to accept services, poor follow-up with services offered and general inaccessibility, without comprehending why. If they discover that those challenges are due to fears about immigration actions, systems will be better equipped to provide services to those in need if their fears are allayed.
- Clarify policy, processes and practices for undocumented and noncitizen youth and their families. The sanctuary city conversation in particular has led to widespread confusion about whether federal law requires local youth-serving systems to enforce federal immigration laws by detaining youth who are without lawful status, absent another lawful justification for that detention. It does not. Further, systems should consider whether the processes and practices they have in place are adequate to ensure access to services by noncitizen youth and their families, and address these deficiencies if they are not.
- Educate and train relevant staff and stakeholders, including families, on the common forms of immigration relief for noncitizen youth. Noncitizen and undocumented youth have several forms of relief available to them through which they may achieve lawful permanent residence. Child welfare and juvenile justice systems are generally not equipped to pursue these remedies, but should consider actively partnering with organizations that are, and making connections to youth and their families that may need this help.
While the complexities of the intersection between immigration policy may seem daunting to youth-serving systems, one thing is clear: Youth-serving systems can no longer remain willfully ignorant about this area of acute need.
Marie N. Williams, J.D., is senior program officer at the Stoneleigh Foundation. Before that she was immediate past executive director of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice and a longtime advocate for social justice causes.
WASHINGTON — A new grant program from the U.S. Administration for Children and Families is trying to untangle how to develop services for domestic victims of human trafficking. The most recent round of grants focuses on rural areas, where runaway and homeless youth, Native Americans and survivors of violence and abuse are among the high-risk populations for trafficking.
Young people can be a target for traffickers because they have run away or are homeless, or because they become homeless after being trafficked, said Katherine Chon, director of the Office on Trafficking in Persons at the ACF.
“We know human trafficking is a problem across the country — in rural, suburban and urban settings,” Chon said.
In North Dakota, providers say they’ve seen an increase in trafficking connected to oil boom towns, places where the social services safety net is not usually in place.
As part of the grant program, one group, Mountain Plain Youth Services/Youthworks will look specifically at how to help youth ages 13 to 21 who are at risk for trafficking, have been recovered from trafficking or identify as being trafficked.
The group plans to develop a network of host homes, places where young people can find shelter and assistance.
Melanie Heitkamp, YouthWorks executive director, said collaboration will be key to the program’s success, from social services agencies, law enforcement, domestic violence groups and the larger community.
“We don’t try to tackle this problem alone. We’re developing protocols and multidisciplinary teams so we can maximize our resources,” she said.
The National Human Trafficking Resource Center received calls about nearly 1,000 cases of human trafficking from 15 of the most rural states from late 2007 to June 2014, according to ACF. Of those, 74 percent referenced sex trafficking, and 26 percent referenced labor trafficking.
The grant program is not the only way ACF is working in the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota and Montana to address human trafficking. In 2014, the agency started training health care providers on how to recognize and deal with human trafficking in several communities.
Chon said the new grant program focuses on domestic victims because of an evolving awareness that trafficking does not affect only foreign nationals.
“It was much more diverse than we first understood,” she said.
In previous guidance, the agency has identified screening tools that can help community organizations and others identify victims of trafficking. They recommend paying attention to both the mental and physical health of children and adolescents.
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When Crystal Contreras was seven and living in Los Angeles, her mother put her in the care of someone Contreras saw as a father figure. Instead, he pressured the little girl for sex. For the next three years, until she was 10, the man raped her regularly, often creeping into the house at night without her mother’s knowledge.
“I never said nothing to my mom,” Contreras told JJIE.org during an interview in July. “I was scared he would kill her or hurt her or hurt the animals that I had. I felt like I was protecting her. But what I did – I started acting out.”
Contreras, now 21 and in college, completed a five-year term at a juvenile detention facility in California last year, she said. Her history of sexual trauma echoes the stories of tens of thousands of girls who find themselves in the juvenile justice system, a history that advocates and professionals in the field say the states and federal government must take into account when designing rehabilitation programs to meet girls’ needs.
While the number of girls who had contact with the juvenile justice system in 2010 equaled only about 40 percent of the number of boys, girls are more likely to be detained for minor offenses related to their underage status, like truancy or running away, according to a report released Tuesday by the Georgetown Center on Poverty, Inequality and Public Policy. Less than 10 percent of juvenile arrests for violent crimes involved girls, the report said.
“Overall, the juvenile justice system is ill-equipped to serve girls effectively, having failed to implement the reforms called for by a growing body of research on the needs of the girls in its care,” said the report, “Improving the Juvenile Justice System for Girls: Lessons from the States.”
Malika Saar, executive director of the Human Rights Project for Girls, told an interagency gathering of federal officials in Washington, D.C., last month that the so-called school-to-prison pipeline applies mainly to boys. For girls, Saar said, the biggest funnel into the prison system is sexual abuse.
Liz Watson, a co-author of the Georgetown report, echoed Saar’s description.
“What really stands out about girls’ particular pathway into the system is that very often, the girls are in the system for things like running away and truancy, and sometimes, being picked up for prostitution, which is really exploitation for these girls,” Watson said. “So the reasons they get into the system are gender bias and exploitation and abuse.”
To add insult to injury, she said, “Once they’re there, girls have harsher penalties than boys for status offenses.”
Withelma "T" Ortiz Walker Pettigrew, 23, testified about her detention experiences in California and Nevada before a federal interagency committee, the Coordinating Council of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, in Washington, D.C., in September.
The council, an independent body created under the authority of the federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974, meets quarterly to coordinate the program efforts of federal government agencies. It includes cabinet members from the departments of Labor, Health, Housing and Urban Development, Education and Homeland Security.
Last month marked the first time since 2000 that the council had met to discuss the issue of girls in the juvenile justice system. The meeting 12 years ago led the U.S. Department of Justice to create the National Girls Study Group, a multi-year research effort into strategies for keeping girls from entering the system, Melodee Hanes, the acting administrator for Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, told the council.
Another outcome of the 2000 meeting was the creation of the National Girls Institute within the federal juvenile justice office in the U.S. Department of Justice, a clearinghouse for research and technical assistance, Hanes said. The institute recently released its own findings from a series of national “listening sessions” with girls in the system, their families and other stakeholders.
Although most cabinet-level members were not present at September’s meeting, their agency representatives listened intently as field professionals and women who had been incarcerated as girls testified about their experiences with the system.
Pettigrew told the council she was trafficked as a minor, coerced into sex and kept captive.
“I was sent to the juvenile justice system for a crime that technically, according to the law, I did not have the ability or consent to commit,” Pettigrew said. “I was a victim of child abuse but I was the one put behind bars.”
Watson calls girls like Pettigrew and Contreras “the walking wounded” who are often re-traumatized in detention. Despite her history of sexual abuse, Pettigrew found herself in a facility with no doors on the showers or the toilets, and male staff members to watch the girls. The lack of doors in showers and toilets comes up regularly in descriptions of facilities by advocates and girls.
“Understanding the pathway for girls, and really the history of exploitation and abuse, is key to being able to undertake reform efforts that are really responsive to girls’ needs,” Watson told JJIE.org.
The Georgetown report came out of a meeting of experts and professionals last year where, Watson said, few knew of innovations by states other than their own. “It’s extremely important that states that are interested in reforms have the examples of other states to work on so they’re not re-creating the wheel,” Watson said.
The report outlines reform efforts by Connecticut, Florida and one California county, and offers recommendations for the federal government that echo those presented to the coordinating council by Pettigrew and other advocates.
The federal government must fund research and evaluation of girls’ programs, improve the assessment and data collection tools available for girls, and encourage states to develop programs that are geared toward girls’ particular needs and that take into account their history of sexual trauma, trafficking and exploitation, they say.
Back in Los Angeles, Contreras is now taking college sociology courses, working for a major health care organization and volunteering at a program for foster youth. During her last couple of years in detention, she said, she realized she had to take care of herself if she wanted to succeed.
Pettigrew is applying to undergraduate programs and trying to collect funds for college. It’s hard sharing her story in a roomful of people, she said, especially when few share her history. But she needs to do it, she said, so more people can understand what it’s like to be a girl in the system.
Photos by Kaukab Jhumra Smith
On the 900-mile trek of mostly desert that stretches between Eritrea and Egypt, hunting for humans has become routine.
Eritrean refugees who have fled their homeland fall prey to Bedouin or Egyptian traffickers. The refugees are held for ransom. Those with relatives abroad who can pay for their release might survive. Those who do not are often killed. The United Nations confirms that some are harvested for their organs — their livers and kidneys sold on the black market — while others, the young and able, are sold off. One survivor told the U.N., “People catch us, sell us like goats.”
Slavery is alive and well in the 21st century. There are more people enslaved today than at any other time in history. The U.S. State Department says that estimates of those enslaved through human trafficking ranges from 4 million to 27 million.
Human trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal business in the world, according to the State Department. It ranks only second to drug trafficking in profitability, bringing in an estimated $32 billion annually. The majority of those trafficked are young adults between ages 18 and 24 — but children also make up a large part of it. Almost all have experienced either sexual exploitation or violence, often both, during their time being enslaved.
But the statistics can be disputed. The United Nations notes that “the lack of accurate statistics is due only in part to the hidden nature of the crime, and that the lack of systematic reporting is the real problem.” In other words, the number of those trafficked worldwide might be far greater than what is estimated.
What we do know is that traffickers practice the trade with relative impunity. In 2006 there were 5,808 trafficking prosecutions and 3,160 convictions worldwide, which would mean that one person is convicted for every 800 people trafficked.
Though most of those trafficked are exploited for their labor and or are thrown into sexual servitude, the area that’s particularly grotesque is the organ trade. One human rights lawyer who did not want to give his name said cases involving the removal of human organs for transplantation are more miserable than those involving genocide.
“At one end someone is killed for their organs, which in some perhaps overly theoretical way is worse than murder,” he said. “In the latter, the victim’s death is at least a motive — the murderer seeks to kill a human being. In the former, the victim is merely a box containing an object, and the murder is merely the process of throwing out the box and wrapping.”
The international commodification of humans is becoming the new norm of our age. In Bangkok, Thailand, a “baby factory” was discovered last year in which more than a dozen Vietnamese women were impregnated (some were raped), and their babies were sold for adoption. Whether or not the babies — unregistered, non-existent in the eyes of the law — were truly adopted, raised to be slaves or farmed out for body parts is not known.
What is certain is that Vietnam, like many other impoverished countries with a growing population of young people, has become a major supply country, where vulnerable young women and girls are in high demand on the international market. In certain bars in Ho Chi Minh City, rural girls are routinely trucked in to parade at auction blocks. The girls are often naked except for a tag with a number on it, and in the audience are foreigners — South Koreans, Taiwanese and mainland Chinese are the main consumers — who call them down for inspection. They leave together under the pretense of marriage after the paperwork is done, but many end up in brothels or sweatshops instead.
Diep Vuong, executive director of Pacific Links Foundation, an organization that works to combat human trafficking by providing education to the poor in Vietnam, is pessimistic. Overpopulated and dwindling in resources, Vietnam is full of young, uneducated people.
“The only resource we have left in abundance are the humans themselves,” she noted wryly. “We’re moving toward the Jonathan Swift version of reality.”
While children of the poor are not being eaten as Swift sarcastically suggested, they are being abducted and enslaved. They work in the fields as slave laborers as in the Ivory Coast’s cocoa plantation where half a million children work and provide 40 percent of the world’s chocolate — something most of them have never tasted. Or they are abducted at ages as young as 5 in Uganda and forced to become soldiers. Or they work in the carpet and brick factories of South Asia, many shackled and branded by their masters. Those too weak to work are killed off and thrown into rivers.
Closer to home, border drug cartels have incorporated the lucrative human trade into their business, and in some parts of Mexico they have the tacit support of the local authorities. Mass graves were discovered last year full of migrants’ corpses. Their crime: They weren’t worth much alive.
The forces of globalization have only intensified the trade in humans. After the Cold War ended, borders became more porous. New forms of information technology have helped integrate the world market. Increasing economic disparity and demand for cheap labor have spurred unprecedented mass human migration. The poor and desperate fall prey to the lure of a better life.
Nongovernmental organization workers who battle trafficking often describe victims as being “tricked.”
In March 2004, eBay shut down sales when it discovered that three young Vietnamese women were being auctioned off, with a starting bid of $5,400. Their photos were displayed. The “items” were from Vietnam and would be “shipped to Taiwan only.”
“I was browsing on the Internet and this guy kept trying to chat with me,” one Vietnamese teenager rescued from a brothel in Phnom Penh recounted. “There’s a coffee shop in Cambodia. He said I could make money over there.”
They crossed the border from Vietnam to Cambodia, and she soon became enslaved. She was saved in a police raid, just as the traffickers were planning to move her again. The madam “was waiting for more girls to show up to ship us to Malaysia,” she said. Her fake passport had already been made.
The trafficking network is sophisticated and well organized, and if the lure of money and a better life elsewhere becomes the entrapment of the poor and vulnerable, the abundance of cheap labor coupled with an atmosphere of impunity becomes the seduction for others to become traffickers.
“A slave purchased for $10,000 could end up making her owner $160,000 in profits before she dies or runs away,” Siddharth Kara noted in a talk on sex trafficking at the Roberta Buffett Center for International and Comparative Studies at Northwestern University. In fact, a child in Vietnam can be bought for as little as $400.
Slavery is not going away because the agony of human enslavement remains largely invisible in the public discourse. It is just as shocking that Eritrean refugees are hunted nightly by traffickers as it is that their story remains hidden in darkness.
Teachers can be the first line of defense against child sex trafficking, according to Maria Velikonja, a former FBI agent who has worked on human trafficking issues for the United Nations. During a two-day conference on sex trafficking at Georgia State University, in Atlanta, Velikonja spoke about the warning signs educators should watch for in their students and what teachers can do to keep their students safe.
The conference, Not in Georgia: Combating Human Sex Trafficking, organized by the Georgia Department of Education, was the third part of an ongoing series of lectures on the sex trade. In a lecture titled, “Combating Human Sex Trafficking in Georgia: What Public School Educators Can Do,” Velikonja began by outlining some of the basics of sex trafficking for teachers.
“What does a potential sex trafficking victim look like?” she asked the small crowd. “They could look like anyone. They could be short, tall, fat or skinny. It doesn’t matter.”
So, if victims of sex trafficking come in all shapes and sizes, what other indicators can teachers watch for?
Teachers should be on the lookout for certain socio-economic factors, Velikonja says. Children living in poverty and children from single-parent households are at risk.
But more important is whether their parents are paying attention and this is not limited to low-income families, she says. In fact, upper- and middle- class families with busy, distracted parents are equally at risk.
The Office of Justice Programs says as many as 300,000 children are at risk for sexual exploitation each year in the U.S. According to Velikonja, they could be boys or girls.But one of the key indicators teachers should watch for is poor or failing grades.
Another alarm for teachers are girls with much older boyfriends, Velikonja said.
“You might see a 13-year-old girl who suddenly starts dating a 17-year-old,” she said.
But, for teachers, it may not always be as simple as having a keen eye, as a great deal of prostitution has moved to the Internet. Text messaging, Facebook and online instant messaging have given child predators easier access to young people who are often not as wary of strangers online as they would be in real life, Velikonja said.
The U.S. Department of Education says teachers should be on the lookout for the following potential indications that a child is a victim of sex trafficking:
- Has unexplained absences from school for a period of time, and is therefore a truant
- Demonstrates an inability to attend school on a regular basis
- Chronically runs away from home
- Makes references to frequent travel to other cities
- Exhibits bruises or other physical trauma, withdrawn behavior, depression, or fear
- Lacks control over her or his schedule or identification documents
- Is hungry-malnourished or inappropriately dressed (based on weather conditions or surroundings)
- Shows signs of drug addiction
However, protecting students from the sex trade extends beyond simply acting as a watchdog, Velikonja says. In the classroom, teachers should emphasize that children involved in the sex trade are victims and that the sex trade is not glamorous.
Most important is to teach kids that, reporting incidents is important. If someone they know is involved in the sex trade, not telling adults will only hurt the victim.
In the end, it’s critical parents need to be educated.
“Kids may be easily scared by this,” Velikonja said. “But speaking directly to parents may be more effective.”
Parents need to make students aware of child predators, both online and in real life, she said.
Jessica Smith, a spokesperson for Wellspring Living, a group that helps victims of sexual abuse, said it's up to parents to monitor their children's use of social media, such as Facebook and Twitter.
"Most of these transactions happen online," she wrote in an email. "It's the new 'street.'"
Equally as important for parents is to know who your children are friends with.
"Know their friends and where they are going -- always," Smith said. "We have so many stories of girls getting into this because of a friend and being trafficked right under their parent's noses. Know the parents of their friends."
As Velikonja drew her presentation to a close, audience members shared what actions they were planning to take moving forward to combat sex trafficking. Many were going to take further classes about sex trafficking.
One audience member asked the crowd if sex trafficking was being taught in sex education classes in the schools.
One teacher responded, “We’re working on it. We’re working on making it a part of curriculum in social studies classes.
Wednesday, several hundred advocates gathered in front of the Georgia capitol to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the passage of a tough, new anti-trafficking law. Supporters wore purple scarves. The bill increased penalties for those engaging in child sex trafficking.
The Women’s Foundation of Minnesota (WFM) recently announced the launch of a five-year campaign to end the sex trafficking of girls in the state through a combination of grants, research, public education, convening and evaluation.
The A FUTURE: Minnesota Girls Are Not for Sale campaign will award grants between $40,000 and $70,000 per year for:
- efforts to change state laws to recognize prostituted girls as victims of crimes, not criminals.
- Creating and maintaining shelters for survivors.
- Training youth and youth outreach professionals about sex trafficking prevention.
To be eligible for the grant, programs must focus primary on directly reducing sex trafficking of girls (or gender non-conforming youth) under the age of 18 within Minnesota.
Applications for year-one funding of the five-year initiative runs Feb. 1, 2012 to Jan. 31, 2013. Year 2-3 and 3-4 funding are contingent on organizational performance.
Information for this particular grant is not yet available on the WFM website, but details are available through a downloadable PDF.
The Demi and Ashton (DNA) Foundation recently launched a high-profile online video initiative to fight child sex trafficking. The series "Real Men Don't Buy Girls" features major celebrity appearances by names like Bruce Willis, Justin Timberlake, and even Pete Cashmore - founder of the social media news site Mashable.com.
The interactive campaign encourages users to submit their own "Real Man" video - using the slogans "I am a Real Man" or "I prefer a Real Man" - and upload them to the DNA Foundation's Facebook fanpage. In the video above, Isaiah Mustafa (commonly known as "The Old Spice Guy") and Mashable founder Pete Cashmore tip their hat to the cause.
According to the DNA Foundation, the videos - and the organization itself - aim "to raise awareness about child sex slavery, change the cultural stereotypes that facilitate this horrific problem, and rehabilitate innocent victims." Many of the videos take a quirky and often funny look on what it means to be a "Real Man" while attempting to address a serious issue.
According to the DNA Foundation's website:
- 12.3 million people are enslaved today worldwide.
- In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation eradicating slavery, yet more than one million people are enslaved in the U.S. today.
- Two million children are bought and sold in the global commercial sex trade.
- The average age of entry into commercial sex slavery in the United States is 13 years old.
- The global sex slavery market generates $32 billion in profits each year.
- Every ten minutes, a woman or child is trafficked into the United States for forced labor.
- Most “johns” are quite ordinary: 70-90 percent are married, and most are employed with no criminal record.
- 76 percent of transactions for sex with underage girls are conducted via the internet.
- The U.S. government spends 300 times more money per year to fight drug trafficking than it does to fight human trafficking.
- Approximately 55 percent of girls living on the streets in the United States engage in commercial sex slavery. Girls from middle and upper class neighborhoods are also at risk.
A Mashable article about the video series has already been shared more than 1,600 times across the social web. Mashable's esteem -along with a star-studded line up and DNA Foundations 43,000 Facebook friends - may be just the vehicle Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher needed to foster mainstream awareness.
Jurisdictions that are either developing or trying to enhance programs designed to implement the Sex Offender Registration Act may want to consider applying for a grant sponsored by The Office of Sex Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending and Trafficking (SMART) Support for Adam Walsh Implementation Grant Program. The Sex Offender Registration Act was put in place so it could provide a legal means to protect children from sexual exploitation and violent crime, prevent child abuse and child pornography and promote internet safety. It also helps build a comprehensive national system for the registration and notification of sex offenders.