Investigators who fight child pornography in Washington say they are overwhelmed and underfunded. So the state is going after a new source of funding: The sex offenders themselves.
House Bill 1281 creates an account to fund the state’s Internet Crimes Against Child Task Force, which has six full-time employees who search online materials trying to identify victims and help prosecute the people who exploit them. The bill also imposes a $1,000 fine per image or video containing child pornography.
“We are asking the people who victimize children to pay first into a fund that helps rescue more children,” Rep. David Sawyer, prime sponsor of the House bill, told a Senate committee Thursday.
Sen. Pam Roach is sponsoring a similar bill in the other chamber, Senate Bill 5215, which solely creates an account to fund the task force.
Original versions of the bills allocated up to $2 million in unclaimed lottery prize money to the account every two years, but the provision was removed in committees. Now, the state would decide how much money is allocated to the account, similar to others.
Sawyer said if lawmakers have to revisit the account during each budget discussion, it’s more likely to get the funding he says it deserves. “We don’t want people to stop talking and thinking about what’s happening,” Sawyer told TVW.
Most of the civil fines collected under the House bill would go toward funding the state’s task force, but 25 percent would be reserved for advocacy organizations that provide mental health services for victims. “It’s not just after stopping the sex offenders, we need to make sure we’re taking care of victims too,” Sawyer said.
Both measures are named for Alicia Kozakiewicz, a woman who was lured from her home at 13 by a man she met online. A FBI internet crimes task force rescued the young girl four days later, after she was chained in basement, raped, beaten and tortured.
The 26-year-old now advocates around the country for state-level task forces, which she says have limited resources. “They have to look into these children’s eyes and say ‘I don’t have the ability to come get you’,” Kozakiewicz told TVW last month. “I know who you are, I know where you are and I know what’s happening to you, but I can’t come save you because I don’t have the manpower.”
Seattle Police Captain Mike Edwards, who commands Washington’s tax force, says the team needs more funding to secure more full-time help. They received more than 16,000 leads last year. “We’re getting crushed by the number of reports,” he said.
Sawyer’s bill received a hearing in the Senate Law and Justice committee on Thursday. The Senate version is scheduled for a hearing Monday in House Appropriations.