The Internet has become an important part of our everyday lives – for information, communication, and entertainment. As is the case with most emerging technology, the most receptive segment of our population is our young people. They are the first to readily embrace and experiment with these advances, which opens them up to many positive experiences. However, this curiosity can result in their victimization by those who would use technology to exploit them.
The number of children and teenagers using the Internet increases dramatically every day. The manufacture, distribution and possession of child pornography, which used to be a very secretive “underworld” industry, now thrives because the Internet has made it so easily accessible. Social networking sites and unsupervised Internet usage have created an open forum for predators who seek contact with our children. These issues present an absolute threat to young people as well as a formidable challenge to law enforcement.
In 1998, the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention created the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force Program. The purpose of this initiative is to enhance the investigative response of state and local law enforcement agencies when responding to offenders who use the Internet, online communications systems, or any other computer technology to exploit children. In 2003, the Kentucky State Police (KSP) was awarded a grant to establish this program in the Commonwealth, making it one of 46 task forces throughout the nation. As the lead law enforcement agency, KSP assigned sworn and civilian personnel within the Electronic Crime Section to this program. These personnel represent the core of the Kentucky Task Force – investigators who receive complaints and open investigations, forensic examiners who perform analysis of digital evidence seized as part of these investigations, and the administrative personnel who manage the daily operation of the unit.
As the lead law enforcement agency, KSP assumes responsibility for the overall operation and effectiveness of the task force within its jurisdiction. Key to this success are the federal, state and local law enforcement agencies that agree to become participating members. Additionally, there are other agencies and groups that work closely with ICAC, on a national and local level, to maintain a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary approach to dealing with child sexual exploitation issues. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) provides complaint information through the CyberTipline, a congressionally-mandated reporting mechanism accessible on their website. The center also provides child victim identification services, as well as a wide array of investigative and prosecutorial assistance.
In addition to investigating cases of online child sexual exploitation, the KY ICAC Task Force provides statewide training which encompasses all aspects of the issue of child exploitation – from prevention to victim services. Hundreds of law enforcement officers, prosecutors and child advocates have attended training and conferences that addressed various investigative and forensic concerns. Thousands of parents, students and educators have received information as a result of presentations by task force personnel at schools and community groups. This “beginning to end” approach will ensure the most effective, most comprehensive approach to combating child victimization.