By Sally Voth -- firstname.lastname@example.org
A campaign to get more funding to fight pedophiles in Virginia has proven successful.
The General Assembly's two-year $85 billion budget calls for all of the funds collected through a special court fee to go into the Internet Crimes Against Children Fund, which pays for law enforcement positions on two task forces. The task forces investigate cases such as adults trying to meet up with underage children they've met online, and adults creating and/or dealing in child pornography.
Two years ago, legislators passed Alicia's Law, which requires defendants to pay a $10 fee for every felony and misdemeanor conviction.
The law is named after Alicia Kozakiewicz, a 13-year-old girl from Pittsburgh who survived being kidnapped, raped and tortured by a Virginia man she met online.
Lawmakers had expected the ICAC fund to receive $1.8 million per year, but it generated abut 30 percent more, according to a news release from the National Association to Protect Children.
The budget proposed earlier this year by Gov. Bob McDonnell would have had anything above $1.8 million go by default into the commonwealth's general fund. This led to fierce protests from the National Association to Protect Children and anti-child abuse lobby, PROTECT. Del. Beverly Sherwood, R-Winchester, a budget conferee, was particularly targeted.
Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock, had unsuccessfully sponsored a budget amendment that would eliminate the funding cap.
And, when the Senate and the House of Delegates passed their budget April 18, the funding was back in place.
An email from PROTECT celebrating the inclusion stated, "Now Virginia's two child rescue task forces will see big increases in funding, leading directly to the rescue of many more children."
The email thanks several delegates, including Gilbert, Sherwood and Rob Bell, R-Charlottesville.
The only remaining hurdle could come from any budget amendments McDonnell may make. Any amendments are due by midnight tonight.
Gilbert said Thursday he didn't expect the Alicia Law's funding to be cut by McDonnell today.
"I was glad we saved it," he said earlier this week. "It was an extremely important thing to do. I think it was a combination of people and groups who wanted to see it get done, and credit goes to everybody from Del. Sherwood, to PROTECT, to various law enforcement entities that helped explain its core mission and just what that money would be used for.
"There will be more investigators working these cases all across Virginia, and that will result in more child predators being taken off the street. So often you find that if someone is viewing [child pornography], they're much more likely to commit acts of abuse themselves. When you take one predator off the street, you really don't know how many future victims you've saved just by the sheer math of it."
The Frederick County Sheriff's Office has one investigator solely dedicated to the ICAC task force, and a second who devotes part of his time to it.
"Anyone that tells you that there's not a need for more investigators in the field of child exploitation regarding online activities, doesn't have a clue what's going on," said Investigator James Galbreath, the full-time ICAC task force member, in February. "We want to be able to identify [victims]. We want to be able to rescue them. We want to be able to provide them services."
National Association to Protect Children Executive Director Grier Weeks referred Thursday to how serious his group and its allies are when it comes to fighting pedophilia.
"I hope the General Assembly knows now that Alicia's Law is the new 'third rail,'" he stated in an email. "Touch it and you'll get a shock you don't want repeated. Virginians should celebrate, because they'll now see more children rescued and more child predators behind bars."
As a former prosecutor and as a legislator, Gilbert has heard horrific tales of child molestation so "you don't need much convincing" that more ICAC investigators are needed.
"I firmly believe that this is a situation where more resources mean more bad guys in prison," he said. "It didn't take any convincing for me to want to work towards this outcome."
In a Wednesday phone interview, Bell said Alicia's Law "is a crucial program." It gives police a chance to catch predators before they commit crimes, he said.
"So many other instances we're catching them after it's happened," Bell said. "We're hopeful that it deters people who might otherwise commit these harmful acts against children if they know there's police out there."
He added via email, "Our message is clear -- if you're a person who would use the Internet to prey on children, we are looking for you, we will catch you, and when we do, we'll put you in prison."