Stamp out online child pornography.

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SADLY, Washington state is among the nation’s biggest offenders when it comes to the escalating crime of online child pornography and subsequent child-sex trafficking.

This shocking fact was brought forward recently in a state Senate Law and Justice Committee meeting. It came in testimony supporting SSSB 5215, a bill aimed at those who use the Internet to commit crimes against children. The legislation, approved unanimously by the Senate on March 4, would boost financial support for our state’s Internet Crimes Against Children task force. Our ICAC dates back to 1998. It is part of a nationwide effort supported by grants from the U.S. Department of Justice.

But the crimes have exponentially increased as more children access the Internet and more traffickers find a safe haven behind their computers because funding for the task force has not kept pace.

Websites, such as backpage.com, have shown how pimps effectively use online technology to lure and then market their victims for sex. Increasingly, the ease of inexpensively storing huge quantities of digital photos and video, then sharing or trading those files over the Internet, has also added to the ways in which children may be trafficked and sexually exploited.

Seattle Police Department Capt. Mike Edwards, who heads Washington’s ICAC task force, testified that the volume of Washington-related leads that come from monitoring underground file-sharing networks for child-porn images has reached approximately 17,000, up from 12,000 about a year ago.

The number of “cyber-tips” linked to computer addresses in our state (reported to authorities by Internet companies when child-porn images are transmitted) had been hovering around 200 per month. It shot to 300 for December and was headed toward 400 when Edwards appeared before the committee in January. The task force’s $428,000 federal grant is “wholly insufficient” to meet its needs, he says.

Child-porn producers are being arrested and children who were trafficked through sexual-abuse videos have been rescued. Unfortunately, the backlog of tips needing follow-up is overwhelming. And, Washington has only a handful of investigators working full time to run down leads.

SSSB 5215 would create an “Internet crimes against children” account in the state treasury. My bill, or its state House counterpart, SSHB 1281, would put more boots on the ground and would be paid for out of existing revenue, funded during the state budget-writing process. No new tax dollars are needed.

This bill would also continue support for the ICAC task force’s efforts to educate children and parents about Internet safety, so they might take steps to protect themselves in the first place. It is chilling to learn that the perpetrator is known to the victim almost 90 percent of the time, and the child of a single mother can be particularly vulnerable to becoming a victim.

Much is said at the capitol about the needs of Washington’s children: education, nutrition, health care, drug-free lifestyles and more. I believe lawmakers must better address the increasing use of the Internet to target children.

Because the Internet makes it possible for children to be trafficked, by video, from the privacy of a home, it’s far more difficult to uncover. As online technology becomes more pervasive and enables more of these crimes, authorities must keep pace. Now is the time for lawmakers to provide law enforcement with the resources needed to find and prosecute those who are exploiting children in such heinous ways.

Pursuing those who use digital technology to victimize kids is no less important than protecting kids as they cross the street. SSSB 5215 offers the Legislature an effective way, without raising taxes, to step up the fight and protect more children from the Internet’s dark side.