Monday, August 2, 2010
The US Department of Justice has launched a nationwide strategy to combat child exploitation but many of the tools are already in use here in Western Pennsylvania. The national program includes a comprehensive threat assessment of the dangers facing children from child pornography, online enticement, and commercial sexual exploitation. Locally, the US Attorney’s office has convened the Western Pennsylvania Crimes Against Children Task Force since 1999. Child exploitation prosecutions have jumped in the region from 5 in 1999 to 267 so far this year. Officials say tat makes the Western District of Pennsylvania one of the busiest offices of its size in the nation. A Child’s Place at Mercy Director Mary Carrasco says much of that can be attributed to the taskforce, “[Child exploitation] is a growing problem but the taskforce has contributed a lot to people working together and coming up with solutions and coming up with new strategies to approach this problem. “ She says when the taskforce first started to meet, some of the members were hesitant to share information but that was quickly overcome. Carassco says as the taskforce worked together, the members found ways to improve the process so children would not have to be repeatedly questioned by different agencies. “I remember a time when we did not ask kids if they were photographed or if there was any Internet component,” says Carassco. That has been important in tracking down child sex offenders.
The improvements have come as recently as this weekend. Using a Depart of Justice grant, Pennsylvania State Police along with Massachusetts State Police and The University of Mass Amherst developed a new tool to track, in real time, individuals sharing child pornography on the Internet. It was used for four hours Sunday. The results were posted for a news conference Monday on a map (above and right) as red markers. Acting US Atty. Robert Cessar says the tool is still very new but it will be used as much as possible, “we are gong to do our darndest to make sure five years from now there is going to be a lot less red on that [map].” Cessar says the maps were not surprising but they “stole his breath away.” “You know it’s out there but until you see a pictorial, or something, it just does not register. But when you look at that, that registers,” says Cessar.
As part of the national effort each region was asked to list their five most wanted fugitives. The five posted by the Western District of PA are all men who have violated the terms of their release to remain in touch with law enforcement as registered sex offenders. Marshall’s office officials say they will use all the tools they have to find all the people on the list.