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Teen victim touts law targeting sexual predators
RICHMOND (AP) — A Pennsylvania teenager who was abducted, held hostage and sexually assaulted by a Virginia man she met online asked legislators yesterday for more funding to crack down on child sexual predators.
In 2002, Alicia Kozakiewicz was 13 when she left her Pittsburgh-area home to meet Scott Tyree, a 38-year-old she had met online. Tyree drove her to his Herndon home, where he chained her to the floor in his basement for four days while he beat and raped her.
Miss Kozakiewicz joined Delegate Brian Moran, Alexandria Democrat, at a press conference yesterday in pushing for "Alicia's Law," which would provide about $14.8 million to expand law-enforcement and forensic capabilities to investigate crimes against children and to train and educate prosecutors and parents on the dangers of Internet predators.
Miss Kozakiewicz, now 19 and a college student, said the legislation is needed to protect children against those she called pure evil: "predators who not only rape a child, but revel in their screams of horror as they cry and bleed and sweat, begging for mercy; perverts who will film this abuse and share it online with others, hundreds of thousands of others right here in the United States; sadistic monsters watching these horrors over and over and over, until eventually they are driven to re-create the scenarios themselves live."
Mr. Moran said the lack of resources at the federal, state and local levels means that only about 2 percent of reported cases of Internet child exploitation are investigated. And while Virginia has tough penalties for those who sexually abuse children, Mr. Moran said they mean nothing unless the predator is caught.
"Alicia's Law" would direct $3.8 million to expanding Virginia's two Internet Crimes Against Children task forces, which are part of a federal network to help state and local law-enforcement agencies hunt down and prosecute child sexual predators. The new funding would establish a unit in each county.
Bedford County Sheriff Mike Brown, who heads a task force in southwest and central Virginia known as Operation Blue Ridge Thunder, said agencies nationwide have made more than 11,000 arrests in the past eight years.
"We could make double that, triple, 10 times if we had the manpower and the funds to work these cases," Sheriff Brown said.
From Oct. 1, 2006 to Aug. 31, 2007, the task forces received more than 18,000 complaints of Internet child exploitation, he said. Those complaints led to more than 2,000 arrests.
They also led to the forensic examination of more than 9,000 computers, creating a backlog officials say holds up investigations and keeps predators behind their keyboards. The proposal includes $6 million for creating three regional forensic labs that would focus only on child-exploitation cases.
It also includes $4.5 million in grants for local law-enforcement agencies, $1.5 million for new prosecutors and training, and another $500,000 for Internet-safety education.
The money for educating parents is desperately needed, said Mary Kozakiewicz, who knew virtually nothing of Internet predators until her daughter disappeared one night between dinner and dessert.
"Kids will push the envelope, and they will engage in dangerous behaviors online," Mrs. Kozakiewicz said. "Parents must be the first line of defense, and we need to know our enemy."
Alicia left her home on Jan. 1, 2002, to meet Tyree. The FBI found her three days later after a Florida man told authorities that Tyree had sent him a picture of a teenage sex slave who looked like the missing girl.
Tyree pleaded guilty in 2003 to charges of sexual exploitation of a minor and travel with intent to engage in sexual activity with a minor. He was sentenced to 19 years in a federal prison.
Legislators and advocates said the funding is needed so law-enforcement agencies can combat the growing child-pornography industry, estimated at $15 billion to $25 billion.
"The Internet connected up virtually every pedophile in the world. That didn't just create a massive chat room, it created a marketplace," said Grier Weeks, executive director of the National Association to Protect Children.
State Sen. Robert Creigh Deeds, Bath County Democrat, introduced similar legislation in the Senate, where it passed out of the Senate Courts of Justice committee yesterday afternoon and now heads to the Senate Finance Committee.
Mr. Deeds and Mr. Moran both are running for their party's nomination for governor next year.
Supporters acknowledged that it would be difficult to secure the funding, given the bleak budget outlook and competing needs, such as reforming the state's mental health system in the wake of April's deadly shootings at Virginia Tech.
On the House side, Mr. Moran's bill is co-sponsored by Delegate Beverly Sherwood, Winchester Republican, a member of the House Appropriations committee and one of the legislators who will determine the final two-year spending plan this session.
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