If Pennsylvanians have learned anything from the Jerry Sandusky case it’s this: when adults suspect child sexual abuse and don’t take action, it is children who pay the unthinkable price.
So, as millions point the finger at Penn State and vent their outrage over inmate Sandusky to co-workers, many are also quietly asking themselves, “Do I know any child who might be a victim of abuse, a child who needs help right now?”
To ask that question is to contemplate a heroic act: lifting an unbearable weight from a child’s shoulders and stepping in to be a protector.
Once we’ve examined our own individual lives and cleared our own consciences, there’s another question every citizen has a moral right to ask: “Does my government know about any children who are being hurt and need rescued right now?”
The answer to that question is yes.
Shortly after the Sandusky case made national headlines, I was contacted by a young woman in my district named Alicia Kozakiewicz. At the age of 13, Alicia was abducted from her Pittsburgh home by a child predator and held for four days. I remembered the kidnapping.
Alicia said she was alive today only because law enforcement zeroed in on evidence coming from the house where she was held captive. They tracked that evidence back through the Internet to her location, freeing Alicia from a basement dungeon and bringing her home.
Here’s what else Alicia told me: there are thousands of Pennsylvania children suffering sexual abuse right now, and law enforcement is in possession of electronic evidence that could lead directly to their locations. Yet, no rescue is on the way, because Pennsylvania law enforcement is criminally overwhelmed and underfunded.
If Alicia was right, the Penn State scandal would pale in comparison. Instead of Penn State officials failing to report the crimes of one predator, Alicia and her group, PROTECT, were telling me that Pennsylvania State officials were failing to act on thousands of suspected child predators.
My office, together with Rep. Mike Sturla, D-Lancaster, began investigating these charges, and what we found was shocking.
A national law enforcement nerve center called Round Up was patrolling the Internet (just as Alicia’s rescuers had done) identifying thousands of criminal suspects a day who were trafficking in video and photos of children being raped, tortured and abused. (Alicia’s captor also produced video of his crimes and shared them online.) Round Up is a national treasure. It has helped law enforcement investigators in all 50 states identify and arrest thousands of child predators and rescue thousands of child victims.
Every trafficker in the Round Up database is a dangerous criminal suspect, of course. But an estimated one in three is a hands-on abuser, with local child victims. That meant Round Up held evidence that could lead police right to the door of more Pennsylvania children than Jerry Sandusky ever hurt.
Here was the biggest surprise. The Round Up national nerve center is hosted on the computer servers of the Pennsylvania State Police.
How many Pennsylvania child predator suspects might be in the Round Up database? Congressional testimony, national law enforcement estimates and reports from Round Up itself indicate the number of unique suspects in Pennsylvania can be conservatively placed between 5,000 and 20,000.
One is too many.
More alarming, we know from arrest and prosecution data that most of these suspects are never arrested or prosecuted. Worse, large numbers of suspects are never even referred to local law enforcement agencies, leaving child-sexual predators at large in communities across Pennsylvania.
Thanks to Alicia, 37 state House members from both parties have joined me in introducing the Attorney General Mandated Reporter Act, legislation that would require the attorney general, or the Pennsylvania Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force should she delegate it, to report child predator suspects seen online to local law enforcement agencies right away, unless they are being actively investigated.
The bill, to be known as “Alicia’s Law,” also would provide funding to train local law enforcement agencies in this most dangerous of all cyber crimes, focusing their efforts on first responder activities that might identify child victims.
Since its introduction in April, Alicia’s Law has been bottled up in committee, and House leaders have refused to hold hearings. Every day the House leadership delays is another day that help won’t reach children in peril.
The next time you hear someone rage against those who kept Jerry Sandusky’s secret, please remember Alicia, and the children she wants to save today. I hope that every Pennsylvania citizen will join me in demanding urgent action to pass and fund Alicia’s Law.