The introduction of the Pennsylvania Attorney General Mandated Reporter Law by Rep. Dan Deasy (D-Allegheny) on the steps of the Allegheny county courthouse in early December didn’t make much of a splash here, but the implications of the legislation are explosive: Supporters allege that the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office is sitting on thousands of leads on child sex abusers, collecting the data on their possible whereabouts but not trying to find them.
“The facts are that there are 22,000 graphic child pornographers in Pennsylvania, thousands of them are likely to be committing child abuse right now, and if we’re not giving out that information to local law enforcement, which is the case … we are not doing our job as best we could,” says former U.S. Representative Patrick Murphy, currently campaigning to become the first Democrat elected as Pennsylvania Attorney General next year.
The bill’s supporters want the Attorney General’s office to share leads generated in RoundUp, a sophisticated forensic tool that scours peer-to-peer file-sharing networks like Gnutella and BitTorrent and pinpoints IP addresses of computers sharing graphic child pornography.
Murphy sees the new law as a stateside extension of the federal PROTECT Our Children Act in 2008. During Congressional testimony for that legislation, the FBI and Department of Justice estimated less than 1 percent of all leads are investigated.
Material includes graphic videos of child rape and ‘grooming materials’—videos designed to teach children it’s normal for adults to touch them sexually.
Supporters of the bill include Murphy, Deasy, Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny), Rep. Michael Sturla (D-Lancaster), national nonprofit PROTECT and high-profile advocate Alicia Kozakiewicz. They say they want the attorney general’s office to “push out” the leads to each of the 67 county district attorneys every 24 hours, and have each instance count as a new investigation into a possible—or statistically speaking, probable—child abuser.
They say where there’s smoke there’s fire, and research backs them up. Though estimates range widely on the percentage of overlap, studies and arrest data confirm the modern phenomenon of “dual offenders,” people whose crimes involve both possession of child pornography and child sex abuse.
Pittsburgh resident Alicia Kozakiewicz doesn’t need to read any studies to make the “dual offender” connection. Ten years ago when she was 13, she was abducted, held hostage, raped and tortured by a man she met online. Both her assault and rescue were facilitated by the Internet. “I was that typical bored, shy and lonely child, just looking for something to do. In the beginning, I chatted for months with Christine … a 14-year-old girl who just understood me all too well,” said Kozakiewicz while testifying in 2007 at a “Sex Crimes and the Internet” hearing before the judiciary committee of the U.S. House of Representatives.
“We became the very best of friends and shared all of our thoughts, all of our intimate secrets. There was nothing she didn’t know about me and we traded our school pictures. Too bad hers were fake.”
Christine was the screen name of a man who introduced her to another “friend” online, a man named Scott Tyree. After chatting for six months, they arranged to meet. The next thing Kozakiewicz remembers, she was in Tyree’s basement.
As her picture appeared in papers and TV news reports across the country, Tyree uploaded footage he took of torturing her online. A Florida man who had seen her picture on the local news recognized her as the young girl hanging from the ceiling, arms bound, in a video. He called the FBI.
Kozakiewicz was chained to the floor when they found her. “I still have really bad days,” she says. “This time of year is always very difficult for me. Last year was the first year we could sing Christmas carols. When this happened … the tree was still up, and there was still that Christmas feeling and Santa Claus being everywhere.”
Kozakiewicz says that since the Penn State scandal broke, it’s more important to her than ever to make some progress in her home state.
“The Penn State tragedy is horrible, and really shocked the world into something that, while it may have been a secret, [is] nothing new,” says Kozakiewicz. She sees Attorney General Linda Kelly’s comments on Penn State hypocritical. “[Kelly] pointed her finger [at] Penn State and has been accusing them [of withholding information] while she herself could also be accused [of the same thing],” says Kozakiewicz.
“If inaction is a crime, on the part of Penn State officials, then certainly Tom Corbett and Linda Kelly are guilty of the same crime,” says Camille Cooper, who helped draft this bill as legislative director of PROTECT. “That’s why Pennsylvania, and that’s why now.”
Attorney General Linda Kelly dismisses the idea that her office is sitting on information that could lead to saving kids. Following the press conference announcing the legislation, Kelly, who as an appointee will not be running against Murphy for the position in 2012, responded in a statement: “The Attorney General’s Child Predator Unit works aggressively to identify and prosecute Internet predators. To date, the unit has arrested 298 predators and has a 100 percent conviction rate, making it the most effective unit of its kind in Pennsylvania and a national leader in child predator prosecutions.”
PROTECT fired back: “All anti-child exploitation units have conviction rates at or approaching 100 percent. That’s precisely why interdicting child pornography trafficking by sexual predators is the most effective strategy possible for detecting and stopping child sexual abuse.”
Here’s a disconnect: The Attorney General’s office, state police and Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) task force say that local law enforcement has access to RoundUp, while the bill’s supporters say that access isn’t good, or direct, enough.
“Now, the leads in the roundup database are not leads that come in reports, so the local law enforcement agency don’t have to work them, don’t have to account for them. They can ignore them, which is what’s going on now … if you require that the AG [report] those leads every 24 hours, they now go up on the board for the first time ever ... That’s called accountability,” Cooper says.