The Attorney General’s Office has few responsibilities more important than protecting children from harm. The Office has launched a series of initiatives designed to help parents and protect children from a variety of dangers, especially those lurking on the internet.
Investigating clergy abuse. In Summer 2018, a Pennsylvania grand jury issued a report alleging more than 1,000 victims of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests in that state over a 70-year period. The report also detailed allegations of a cover-up by church leaders and accusations of sexual abuse against multiple priests who spent part of their ministries in New Jersey. In September 2018, the Attorney General announced the creation of a task force to investigate criminal allegations of clergy abuse in New Jersey, operating under the supervision of Robert Laurino, an experienced sex crimes prosecutor and former Acting Essex County Prosecutor. The task force announced its first criminal charges against a Catholic priest in January 2019 – less than two days after the victim called the Clergy Abuse Task Force Hotline – and its work remains ongoing.
Prosecuting child predators. In recent years, child predators have migrated to social media platforms to lure underage girls and boys for sexual activity. To combat this trend, the Attorney General’s Office has launched a series of undercover operations, netting dozens of alleged predators, including a local police officer, a nurse, a firefighter, and a registered sex offender. The Office has also used these announcements as an opportunity to educate parents and children about the risks of using various websites and social media platforms, including Fortnite, Kik, Skout, and Whisper.
Cracking down on child pornography. Working with the New Jersey State Police and the 21 County Prosecutors, the Division of Criminal Justice investigates and prosecutes those who traffic in images of child sexual abuse. In recent years, the Division has sought and obtained lengthy sentences for those convicted of child pornography, including individuals who possessed tens of thousands of image of child sexual abuse.
Safeguarding children’s privacy on the internet. The Attorney General’s Office is responsible for enforcing the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (“COPPA”), which among other things requires that online companies notify parents and obtain consent before collecting personal information from children under 13. The Office has taken action against companies that fail to meet these requirements, including a May 2018 settlement that reformed the business practices of Chinese app developer Meitu and an August 2018 settlement that shut down the California-based “i-Dressup” social media website.