While the digital age presents new opportunities, it also poses new threats to young people. The Internet allows predators to come into contact with unsuspecting children. It means that the exploitation of children in one country can devastate families half a world away. It has turned child pornography into a global crisis.
Pornographic images of children are not exercises in freedom of expression. These are criminal acts of child abuse. The United States is working to end this abuse through government task forces on Internet crimes against children. With the help of task force members, federal child pornography and abuse prosecutions have increased from 350 cases in 1998 to more than 1,400 cases in 2005.”
– First lady Laura Bush
Internet Crimes Against Children Task Forces
The Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force program is under the umbrella of the US Department of Justice, as part of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP). This program trains individual states and government entities to establish their own task forces to combat cybercrime against our most vulnerable citizens, our children.
In its conception, New York Senator Hillary Clinton asked Congress for $25 million in funding to launch the program. The ICAC Task Force Program was created to help state and local law enforcement agencies increase and strengthen their investigative response to predators using the Internet, online communication systems or other technologies computers to sexually exploit children. Currently the program is integrated by 46 regional agencies of the work group. These agencies are relatively evenly distributed across the country and most states are represented.
Law enforcement has long been aware that the naivety and trusting nature of most children make them easy targets for predators. Teenagers, even though they are older and a few years wiser, are still vulnerable to victimization. These government agencies know that more than 77 million children are connected today. They also realize that the nature of the Internet presents unprecedented complexity for investigating crimes, gathering evidence, identifying and apprehending criminals, and helping child victims and their families.
One of the main reasons for this is the anonymity of the Internet. Unless there is viable evidence that a person committed a crime online, it could be argued that “someone else” hacked into the defendant’s accounts or used their computer while a visitor at the defendant’s home. Another reason for this is that crimes often cross multiple jurisdictions, and often the victim and the perpetrator are geographically separated.
Predators can and do travel hundreds of miles to different states and countries to engage in sexual acts with children they met over the Internet. Many of these cases involve local, state, federal and international law enforcement agencies in multiple jurisdictions.
The National Task Force on Internet Crimes Against Children provides training to ICAC state and local branches so they are better equipped to deal with this growing problem online. Some of the training courses include the Investigative Techniques Training Program, the Child Sex Offender Responsibility Training Program, and the Undercover Chat Investigations Training Program.
Each local Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force is comprised of federal, state, and local law enforcement personnel. Federal and local prosecutors, as well as educators and local service providers, such as mental health professionals, are also involved. Local task forces serve as valuable regional resources to assist parents, educators, prosecutors, law enforcement personnel, and others working on child victimization issues.