Budget plan calls for excess revenue from child sex abuse measure to go into general fund
By Sally Voth -- firstname.lastname@example.org
A lobby group that fights the sexual abuse of children is pressuring Del. Beverly Sherwood, R-Winchester, and Gov. Bob McDonnell to increase funding for a task force that targets online predators.
In 2010, the General Assembly passed Alicia's Law, which adds a $10 fee that defendants must pay for each felony and misdemeanor they are convicted of. That money goes into the Internet Crimes Against Children Fund.
The money is then used to fund task forces and to grant programs that fund dedicated ICAC positions for law enforcement agencies, said Camille Cooper, director of legislative affairs for PROTECT.
The law is named for a 13-year-old Pennsylvania girl kidnapped, raped and brutally tortured for four days in 2002 by a man she met online.
While legislators expected the fund to bring in $1.8 million annually, it has generated about $650,000 above that each year, according to a news release from the National Association to Protect Children, which works with PROTECT.
McDonnell's budget calls for the additional revenue to go "by default" into the state's general fund, Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock, said Monday. He sponsored a budget amendment that would have the additional money go to ICAC groups.
"The Senate has the money in their budget," Gilbert said. "The House does not, despite my suggestion."
He said there was a hitch in the task forces' reporting practices, which is being sorted out.
As a legislator, Gilbert has become aware of horrific child sexual abuse.
"I would be reluctant to speak in detail about the things I've been made aware of and have seen in learning more about this issue in the General Assembly," he said. "The depths to which people will go to abuse children, sometimes even their own children, for their own perverted sexual gratification is limitless, and all of us, I think, who are interested in these issues in Richmond realize that we need resources to go after the people who [are] abusing children in this way."
While the task forces also go after predators who try to meet up with children they've encountered online, it's those who create child pornography who are "the most depraved," Gilbert said.
He said those looking to join a child-pornography ring must create new content to share with other pedophiles.
"People are raping their own children so they can join the club and get to see other people raping their children," Gilbert said. "It's sick."
PROTECT's Cooper was equally blunt about what these predators do.
"These officers work both proactively and reactively to ... track people who are trafficking in hard-core, sadistic images of infants and toddlers being sadistically raped and tortured," she said. "The majority of them are hands-on offenders."
The task forces are making a difference, Cooper said.
"All across Virginia, they've rescued hundreds of children, they've doubled the number of arrests they've had in the last year alone," she said. "Every single locality in the state of Virginia should have a dedicated officer. What our money does is provide these local agencies to be able to apply for a dedicated position.
"It's unacceptable for the governor or a single person in the General Assembly to raid that fund and transfer that money to something like Game and Inland Fisheries. I think we have to make the protection of children a priority. That means you have to walk the walk and put your money where your mouth is."
Sherwood on Monday said Alicia's Law wasn't getting a funding cut.
"[The $1.8 million] was what they originally said they needed each year," she said. "They've not taken a cut as many others have. It's a difficult budget year to be looking at big-dollar amounts."
Sherwood also said there was a task force that wasn't providing reports until a few days before the budget was debated.
"That [reporting] was requested from the state, and I'm not sure that that's been happening," she said. "So, if there are additional needs, I guess they haven't been documenting."
Sherwood described PROTECT as a "wonderful, wonderful program."
McDonnell strongly supports the work of ICAC task forces, Taylor Thornley, his deputy director of communications, said via email Monday. The 2010-2012 Appropriations Act calls for the excess money to go to the general fund, she says.
However, if legislators want to change how the extra money is handled, McDonnell "would be open to supporting that change," according to Thornley.