Bill Targets Va. Online Predators
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
RICHMOND, Jan. 22 -- Alicia Kozakiewicz was 13 when she was abducted and assaulted in a Herndon basement by a man she met online. Four days after her disappearance, a team of law enforcement officers who specialize in cybercrime tracked her down.
Kozakiewicz, now 19, will be in Richmond on Wednesday for the presentation of a proposal, called Alicia's Law, that would provide state money to a pair of law enforcement task forces, including one in Northern Virginia, that target online criminals who are involved in pornography and lure children into one-on-one meetings.
"A child is worth it,'' Kozakiewicz said in an interview from her home in Pittsburgh on Tuesday. "You can't put a price on a child."
Dels. Brian J. Moran (D-Alexandria) and Beverly J. Sherwood (R-Frederick) will announce the proposal, which includes setting aside $18 million in the next two-year budget to combat online crimes against children.
Moran and Sherwood, along with Kozakiewicz and experts from across the state, will announce the proposal at a news conference Wednesday morning. Later, Kozakiewicz will meet with Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D).
About one in every five children who used the Internet regularly received a sexual solicitation in the past year, according to a study by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Experts from the Justice Department and the FBI testified recently before Congress that child exploitation continues to grow rapidly.
Virginia is facing a $600 million budget shortfall this year, and an economic downturn is expected to make the next two-year budget tight. Some House Republican leaders have expressed skepticism about funding any new programs, but this proposal has the backing of Sherwood, who heads the subcommittee on public safety appropriations.
Moran, chairman of the House Democratic caucus, said: "As the father of two young children, I know parents no longer only worry about an intruder breaking into their home, or a prowler on the street. They have to worry about the predator who logs in to their home every night."
The Justice Department funds 46 Internet Crimes Against Children Task Forces, including two in Virginia. In the coming months, that number will increase to 60. Each receives an average of $250,000 from the federal government every 18 months.
The first 11 task forces, including one in Bedford County in central Virginia, formed in 1996. In the past decade, others opened, including one in Northern Virginia that covers the area roughly from Culpeper north, including the District. Thirty-nine law enforcement agencies are partners in the task force.
The money from Alicia's Law would expand training and equipment for the Northern Virginia and Bedford task forces, authorize a grant program for localities that try to track and catch online predators, and create three regional computer forensics labs. Experts say officers have to wait several months to have a hard drive analyzed.
Virginia's proposal is part of a national effort to provide state money to the task forces.
Grier Weeks, executive director of the National Organization to Protect Children, helped secure money last year in California and Tennessee to expand or create task forces and forensics labs there. This year, he is trying to get money from the North Carolina legislature.
Congress is considering a bill that would pump $100 million into enforcing laws on online crimes against children. The House passed the bill, but the Senate has not acted.
"It's the truest form of the child abuse prevention that is possible," Weeks said.
Almost 500,000 people traffic in child pornography over the Internet nationwide, according to a data network kept by the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force Program. Because of a lack of resources, police have been able to investigate only 2 percent of known offenders, child exploitation experts testified at a congressional hearing.
Kozakiewicz began talking about her experiences about five years ago, hoping to help children learn how to be more careful and to persuade governments to spend more money to fight cybercrime.
"Please support the children. Save us from pedophiles, the pornographers, the monsters. The boogeyman is real, and he lives on the Net. He lived on my computer, and he lives in yours," she testified last year before a congressional committee. "While you are sitting here, he's at home with your children. . . . Task forces all over this country are poised to capture him, to put him in that prison cell with the man who hurt me. They can do it; they want to do it. Don't you?"