Fighting Child Exploitation

Johnston 1Being assigned to help prosecute child exploitation offenses certainly isn’t easy. The defendants we bring to justice prey on the innocent. It is heartbreaking – and incredibly rewarding. When I first arrived at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of Massachusetts, my home for the next six months, I was completely overwhelmed. As soon as I met my supervisor, Assistant United States Attorney and Project Safe Childhood Coordinator Stacy Belf, we were off to work. Acronyms and strange words flew by me: Rule 11, CEOS, NCMEC Report, C Plea. I was sure I would never catch up. My experience over the next six months was nothing short of amazing. Learning to understand this strange new language, meeting judges and special agents, seeing my work filed in court or in the news – there is really nothing like it. This job had me working as hard as I ever had and challenged me in ways I had never thought possible. I loved every minute of it.

Working at the U.S. Attorney’s Office gave me the amazing opportunity to work on real cases and help get justice for real children. From chatting with judges in chambers while obtaining search warrants, pouring over thousands of incriminating chat logs to find the perfect one to read at sentencing, to even meeting with agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Homeland Security, there was certainly never a dull day. The satisfaction I felt finding the perfect line of chat to support a charge eight hours into scrutinizing the evidence is as yet unmatched. Being present at a range of meetings that end with anything from “alright, let’s make the arrest” to “my client is ready to plead guilty” and everything in between was incredible. Seeing my research, my work, be relied upon in the court proceeding finally made it click. It was what made me look forward to walking through the courthouse doors every morning to an unpaid internship: What I was doing mattered. I personally was helping victims, children, get justice. The work I did was important and my attorney made sure I knew that. The strongest take-away from this experience was the desire to never let that feeling get away.

This experience taught me many things: the difference it can make when a boss appreciates you, that I definitely will law school, and, most importantly, how, no matter where you are on the office food chain or how much money you make, knowing what you do matters, that what you do helps bring justice to the world – that’s what is important. The Criminal Justice System is complicated; it can be slow, and even convoluted. It certainly isn’t for everyone. But after this experience, I know it is for me.

Felicia Johnston, Criminal Justice