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UPDATED: Alicia's Law supporters call for funding to fight online child predators

UDPDATE: Rep. Gerry Connolly's office says that a broad cybersecurity bill passed by the House of Representatives this week will also increase federal government attempts to crack down on Internet crimes involving children and send $190,000 to Northern Virginia, thanks to an amendment written by the Democrat from Fairfax County.

The Cybersecurity Enhancement Act (H.R. 4061) passed the House by 422-5 on Thursday, the same day that Virginia lawmakers called attention to the need for a dedicated stream of funding for Alicia's Law.

The federal bill would establish a strategic plan for federal cybersecurity research and development, strengthen public-private partnerships in the area of cybersecurity, help train the next generation of cybersecurity professionals, improve cybersecurity technical standards, and promote a cybersecurity public awareness campaign.

Connolly's amendment requires more federal focus on children and the internet, a spokesman for Connolly said. The amendment also makes sure children and young adults are a primary target audience of public awareness campaigns about the many threats lurking in cyberspace....

"Good cop, bad cop" is a time-honored strategy in law enforcement to obtain cooperation from recalcitrant suspects. Today, supporters of Alicia's Law put it to use while calling for increased funding to combat online sexual predators.

First came Alicia Kozakiewicz, a Pennsylvania undergraduate who became an advocate for the law that bears her name after surviving abduction by a Herndon man whom she met online in 2002 when she was 13.

A poised Kozakiewicz took the podium at a press conference in the General Assembly Building to tell of the pain that she still suffers from the incident.

As cameras rolled and reporters scribbled notes, Kozakiewicz said the problem of online sexual predation is enormously widespread. Police have traced hardcore child porn to more than 20,000 computers in Virginia but have been able to investigate fewer than 2 percent of identified child pornographers and predators, she said.

She urged people to help strengthen Alicia's Law by supporting new sources of regular funding for Virginia's two Internet Crimes Against Children task forces, the law enforcement teams that target people like her attacker.

Alicia's Law was enacted in 2008 as a budget amendment that set aside more than $1.5 million to expand the Internet task forces in Virginia.

"These are heinous crimes perpetuated by real monsters in our world," she said. "But real law enforcement investigation takes real money."

A phalanx of lawmakers, including House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith (R-Salem) and former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, stood behind her, solemn-faced.

Virginia State Police Superintendent Stephen Flaherty was there, and so was Ed Smart, president of The Surviving Parents Coalition and the father of kidnap victim Elizabeth Smart, who praised Kozakiewicz as "this beautiful, amazing girl" with the courage to come forward. Some attendees dabbed away tears.

Deeds, who coauthored budget amendments with Griffin that would impose a $10 fee on felony and misdemeanor convictions to set up a dedicated stream of money to combat Internet sexual predators, seemed almost to be choked up as he spoke.

Other proposals sponsored by lawmakers would require officials to track data on Internet crimes involving children and report them to the public.

Clearly, Kozakiewicz was the Good Cop.

Then came Camille Cooper, director of legislative affairs for the National Association to Protect Children, a Knoxville,Tenn. organization that helped assemble the event.

"It's pretty demoralizing to have to come here every year to have to ask for what is a very insignificant amount of money that does a tremendous amount of good in this community," Cooper said. She suggested that Virginia get its priorities right as the budget ax begins to fall.

Spending $22 million on the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts might be fine in days of surpluses, she said, but not if it means failing to fund law enforcement's Internet teams during hard times.

"And I know this isn't going to be popular with the wine-and-cheese crowd," she said, "but if you say to me you're going to protect funding for the arts, and you're going to leave children all over this commonwealth to languish in situations where they're being horribly abused day after day after day, when these law enforcement agents could go out right now with a very small amount of funding and go arrest them--I just want to say that's unacceptable."

--Fredrick Kunkle

By Anne Bartlett  |  February 3, 2010; 5:20 PM ET
Categories:  Fredrick Kunkle , General Assembly  
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