Attorney General Alberto Gonzales used strikingly graphic language Thursday to focus attention on online child pornography and said Internet services companies are not doing enough to combat the problem.
"It is graphic, but if we do not talk candidly, then it is easy for people to turn away and worry about other matters," Gonzales said in a speech at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Alexandria, Va.
Acknowledging that his descriptions could make people uncomfortable, Gonzales said he wanted to make sure people knew what was going on.
"I have seen pictures of older men forcing naked young girls to have anal sex. There are videos on the Internet of very young daughters forced to have intercourse and oral sex with their fathers. Viewing this was shocking and it makes my stomach turn," said Gonzales, who was accompanied by his wife, Rebecca.
It was their second visit to the center, created in 1984 as a clearinghouse for information about missing and exploited children.
Ernie Allen, the center's president, said many Americans continue to hold mistaken impressions of the issue. "We hear all the time that this is really just adult porn, 20-year-olds in pigtails made to look like they're 15," Allen said. "This is about children being sexually victimized. They're young children and they're getting younger."
Without identifying companies, Gonzales said some investigations have been hampered by the failure of Internet service providers to retain certain records long enough to help authorities identify purveyors of child pornography. He did not propose a remedy Thursday.
But he did support tripling the criminal fines for companies that fail to report apparent violations of child pornography laws — to $150,000 for the first instance and $300,000 for subsequent failures.
The Justice Department has never written regulations establishing standards on how to report illegal activities or mandating how long records must be kept.
Kate Dean, director of the United States Internet Service Provider Association, said AOL, Earthlink, BellSouth, Verizon and other association members "currently have robust policies in place to ensure that law enforcement can obtain the information they need to prosecute child pornographers."
Dean said the companies would welcome a discussion with Gonzales on the issue.
The Internet companies last year made 34,939 reports to the missing children center, which forwards them to law enforcement authorities, said Michelle Collins, director of the center's exploited children unit.
Last week alone, there were 938 reports, Collins said.
"Several people a week are being arrested somewhere in the country because of information provided by an electronic service provider," she said.
The Justice Department was criticized recently by a victim of child pornography, who said investigators were acting too slowly on information he provided on 1,500 pedophiles. Justin Berry testified to Congress in early April that he starred in his own Web cam child pornography business for five years.
"I believed that the government would protect the children being abused. I believed they would act quickly," Berry, now 19, told the House Energy and Commerce Committee. "I was wrong."
Gonzales and other officials have declined to discuss Berry's case and resulting investigations, but they have pointed to a threefold increase in federal prosecutions of child pornography and abuse cases nationally over the past decade.