Concern about Internet crimes against children is mounting as children's access to and use of the Internet continues to grow. The National Strategy for Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction Report to Congress (2010) highlights the increase in sexual exploitation of children cases:
- nationwide, the U.S. Attorney's office dealt with an 83 percent increase in child pornography cases from 1994-2006,
- the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (ICAC) documented a 230 percent increase in complaints of online enticement of children from 2004-2008, and
- ICAC also reported a 1,000 percent increase in child prostitution complaints during that same period. (The terms "child" and "children" refer to individuals who are minors under the age of 18.)
The above data from law enforcement details the increasing number of complaints that are occurring simultaneously with the exponential use of the Internet. The Library of Congress Federal Research Division in 2009 published "Internet Crimes Against Children: An Annotated Bibliography of Major Studies." The authors looked at studies from the past ten years, many of which extrapolated data from two major surveys, the First (2000) and Second (2005) Youth Internet Safety Survey and the National Juvenile Online Victimization Study (2000-2001). In discussing the scope of the problem, the authors also cited a 2007 online survey of over 40,000 K-12 students which found that children were using the Internet as early as kindergarten age or younger, and while online were involved in inappropriate behavior and exposed to inappropriate content. Other major studies that were reviewed underscore the continuing problem of children being solicited for sex and being requested to post sexual photos of themselves online, as well as children being exposed accidentally or unintentionally to unwanted pornography on the Internet. Moreover, the authors refer to a study of the increasing use of cell phones and social networking sites by adolescents and how this mode of communication has become "an essential part of their [adolescents'] social life." This rising use of technology has created additional potential for victimization. (This federal publication also indicates areas of recommended future research, and points out the often conflicting study results concerning unwanted exposure to online pornography and the impact on minors.)
The exploitation of children occurs both on and offline. In 1984, Congress created the National Resource Center on Missing and Exploited Children, and three years later the U.S. Department of Justice Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section was established with a mandate to enforce federal criminal statutes dealing with child exploitation. With the advent of increasing online criminal activity directed at children, the federal Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force was launched in 1998 to assist law enforcement agencies in dealing with child pornography and cyber enticement of children over the Internet. ICAC is comprised of 61 task forces across the nation with representatives from state, local, and federal law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies who are involved in investigations and prosecutions of these types of crimes. Members of the task force also cooperate with other initiatives and agencies fighting exploitation of children.
Internet Use in Alaska
Alaska's urban population centers have the highest level of individual Internet use in the nation. According to National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) 2010 data released in February 2011, 81 percent of individuals in urban Alaska accessed the Internet from some location. (See Table 1.) Across the country, when looking at all population areas, Alaska ranks third in the percentage of people accessing the Internet (79%), and ranks second for the percentage of households accessing the Internet (84%). (See Table 2.) Nationwide, 54 percent of children 5-9 years of age access the Internet; 79 percent of 10-13 year-olds and 88 percent of 14-17 year-olds use the Internet either in or outside their home. (See Table 3.) Data on computer access by children is not available for Alaska. However, if computer use patterns nationally by children apply to Alaska, the overall high computer usage in the state has the potential for increased cyber crime involving children. The investigation and prosecution of these crimes is a priority with law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies in Alaska and the nation.
The Alaska Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (ICAC) was created as a satellite task force of the Seattle ICAC in 1998. Alaska ICAC became a full-fledged task force in 2008 following several high profile cases. In Alaska, the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force contact is located at the Anchorage Police Department which submits reports and statistics to the U.S. Department of Justice, the ICAC funding agency. The Alaska task force meets regularly to discuss trends and cases, and member agencies often work jointly on cases. The Alaska ICAC is comprised of representatives from the police departments in Anchorage, Kenai, Soldotna, Kodiak, Juneau, Fairbanks, and Palmer, as well as individuals from the Alaska State Troopers, Alaska Department of Corrections, University of Alaska Anchorage Police, Alaska Department of Law, the FBI, Homeland Security Investigations (formerly Immigration and Customs Enforcement), U.S. Attorney's Office, U.S. Marshal Service, U.S. Air Force Office of Criminal Investigation, and the U.S. Department of Justice.
Types of Cases
Law enforcement investigates two types of cases: reactive and proactive. Reactive cases involve a response to a complaint and may involve one or more investigating agencies. Proactive cases often involve a law enforcement officer going onto the Internet to seek out suspects-sometimes called "undercover chat." This occurs without a complaint being the trigger for the action.
Local Law Enforcement
The Anchorage Police Department (APD) is the grant holder for the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. Their Cyber Crimes Unit handles proactive and reactive cases statewide. The Alaska State Troopers (AST) Alaska Bureau of Investigation (ABI) Technical Crimes Unit focuses on child exploitation crimes on the Internet and child pornography. AST and APD deal with about 98 percent of the cyber crimes against children in the state. From 2008 to 2010, there have been a total of 438 crimes reported by Alaska Internet Crimes Against Children agencies. (See Table 4.) Most other law enforcement agencies in Alaska are not large enough to commit full-time resources to this effort; as a result, APD and AST work closely with other police departments in the state.
U.S. Attorney's Office
In the office of the U.S. Attorney for Alaska, two lawyers are assigned to work with ICAC through Project Safe Childhood (PSC), which was established in 2006 to combat the sexual exploitation of children. (Other agency lawyers take cases as needed to assist this work.) The PSC coalition members include FBI (Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau), Homeland Security Investigations (Formerly ICE), U.S. Postal Inspection Service, U.S. Marshal Service, U.S. Attorney's Office, University of Alaska Fairbanks Police Department, University of Alaska Anchorage Police Department, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (JBER) Office of Special Investigations and Judge Advocate General's Corps (JAG), Coast Guard Investigative Service, Anchorage District Attorney's Office, Fairbanks District Attorney's Office, Palmer District Attorney's Office, State of Alaska Probation Department, Alaska State Troopers, Unalaska Department of Public Safety, and the police departments of Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, Kenai, Kodiak, Palmer, Sitka, Soldotna.
The U.S. Attorney's office handles its own caseload (Table 5), but also assists in investigating and prosecuting cases, and works in collaboration with ICAC members. Outreach and community education are goals as well, and Alaska Project Safe Childhood cooperates with a number of other federal, state, local, military, and non-governmental agencies, including victim advocacy groups and tribal entities.
Alaska Department of Law
The Alaska Department of Law Cyber Crimes Unit handles cases of Internet crimes against children and is also a member of ICAC. One Assistant Attorney General in Anchorage is specifically assigned to Internet crime cases, including crimes against children, which make up the bulk of this caseload. Department of Law prosecutors from across the state are also involved in dealing with these crimes.
Community Outreach and Education
ICAC Task Force representatives work with community members and are involved in distributing information about the threat of cyber crimes. Nationally the U.S. Department of Justice and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) present a number of programs to bring attention to the issue of Internet crimes against children. A current focus for the Alaska U.S. Attorney's office is cooperating with tribal agencies to increase awareness of cyber solicitation of Alaska Native children. Additional research on the issue of Internet safety for youth is needed to assist in assessing the most effective means of dealing with cyber crime against children. Proposed updates to the Youth Internet Safety Survey and the National Juvenile Online Victimization Study will provide critical information.
Note: Alaska Senate Bill 110, "An Act relating to human trafficking; and related to sentencing and conditions of probation in criminal cases involving sex offenses," was introduced in March 2011 by primary sponsor, Sen. Bill Wielechowski (D), and co-sponsor Sen. Lesil McGuire (R), to address among other issues, human trafficking within the state of persons under the age of 18. Cyber solicitation can be a factor in human trafficking. The bill has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. For its full text go to http://www.legis.state.ak.us/basis/get_fulltext.asp?session=27&bill=SB110/.