Trinity Mount Ministries

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Cyber Crimes Victimizing Kids Up - Funding Down

by Jon Chrisos

Reports of online child sexual abuse imagery are growing exponentially, according to new data reviewed by the I-Team.

In 1998, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children received about 3,000 reports.

In 2018, NCMEC received 18.4 million reports containing 45 million images.

Police in charge of fighting it are struggling to keep up.

"If it happened to me it could happen to other kids," Alicia Kozakiewicz said.

When she was 13-years-old, she was groomed, lured, and abducted by an internet predator, Scott Tyree, who is still in prison for the crime.

"He kidnapped me and held me captive in his basement dungeon and he was going to kill me," Kozakiewicz said.

Her disappearance set off a massive, four-day nationwide search while Tyree kept her chained to the floor at his home in Virginia.

"He had been live streaming what he was doing to me online. They turned on the computer and there I was on the screen with my hands bound above my head, crying, bleeding, begging," Kozakiewicz said.

Alicia Kozakiewicz

In 2008, she testified in Congress in support of legislation intended to prevent cyber crimes against children and the increasing amount of photos and videos of child abuse.

"In between the beatings and the raping he will hang you by your arms," Kozakiewicz said. "Support the children, save us from pedophiles, the pornographers, the monsters."

The bill passed in the House and the Senate, but since then, the I-Team finds the problem has only gotten worse.

"It's a lot easier for offenders to find kids. Technology is providing an opportunity for offenders to save more content, share more content," NCMEC Exploited Child Division Executive Director Lindsey Olsen said.

New research published by Google, NCMEC and Thorn says the creation and distribution of child sexual abuse imagery is at a breaking point, exceeding the capabilities of law enforcement to take action.

"These are children, these are babies who are being brutalized and tortured on film for other people to enjoy it," Kozakiewicz said.

Companies like Facebook, Google, Twitter and Dropbox are legally required to report images of child sexual abuse on their platforms.

Since Congress passed the PROTECT law in 2008, reports have increased exponentially from 100,000 a year to more than 18 million.

"We're certainly seeing a drastic increase as well," Maine Computer Crimes Unit Commanding Officer Lt. Scott Ireland said.

The unit is one of 61 task forces nationwide trying to keep up.

"I don't think most people have any idea just how big a problem it is," Ireland said.

Numbers reviewed by the I-Team show last year this unit investigated 505 reports of child sexual abuse imagery, and already this year, they've seen about 900 cases.

The unit has made dozens of arrests this year, including a former top-ranking school official in Bangor and a Skowhegan babysitter. Both men are accused of possessing sexually explicit material of children.

"If we don't bring a case to fruition today these kids are still being victimized," Ireland said.

Despite a proliferation of abuse reports, federal funding for units like this one is flat.

In fact, numbers we obtained from the Department of Justice show funding is consistently less than half of the $60 million a year authorized by the PROTECT law in 2008.

"It certainly makes it tougher. It would help us put more people on the ground doing investigations," Ireland said.

The author of the 2008 law, Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-Florida), recently sent a letter to the DOJ.

"This program has been underfunded and under supported, due to the lack of prioritization from the DOJ ... Meaning it has failed to make preventing and rescuing children from internet crimes a priority," Wasserman-Schultz said.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) was a co-sponsor of the 2008 legislation.

"As a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, I strongly support increasing resources to identify and prosecute the perpetrators of these heinous acts and to prevent children from becoming victims," Collins said.

We reached out to the DOJ for a response to the letter, but we didn't hear back.

"We have to fund these task forces this is happening, there are predators out there," Kozakiewicz said.

Right now Kozakiewicz is going state by state, working with PROTECT, trying to pass Alicia's Law to provide a dedicated stream of state funding.

The law is on the books in 12 states, but not yet in Maine.

However, the Maine legislature recently approved money to hire four more people in the Computer Crimes Unit.

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