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W.Va. to get funds to fight sex crimes

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin, both D-W.Va., announced Tuesday that more than $425,000 in federal funds will come to West Virginia, including $275,000 to help fund programs to prevent sexual exploitation of children and $150,000 to help continue funding the state's Rape Prevention and Education program.

As chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, Rockefeller has held several hearings about potential dangers to children who use the Internet, chat rooms and sites like Facebook.

Rockefeller also has held roundtables in West Virginia about the need to protect children against cyber-bullying, online predators and Internet harassment.

The $275,000 grant will help the West Virginia State Police upgrade their computer capabilities to better investigate and prosecute sexual exploitation.

"The Internet is a great resource for learning, but it can also put kids at risk," Rockefeller said. But "when kids use the Internet unsupervised, they too often become the target of bad intentions."

"This grant will help our West Virginia police departments and other state and local officials achieve their very important mission of keeping our kids safe online."

During a Senate hearing on April 29, Rockefeller said a recent study showed "children ages 2 through 11 make up 9.5 percent of online users. That's nearly 16 million children, and the number is rapidly growing."

"A decade ago, going online meant accessing the Internet on a computer in your home. Today, it also includes iPhones, portable games and interactive TVs. As powerful and exciting as these new developments are, a changing world brings new risks," Rockefeller said.

Manchin said, "We must do everything we can to protect [our children] from criminals and pedophiles who are exploiting children using the latest technology.

"When I was governor, I made sure that our law enforcement personnel had all the tools they needed to keep our children safe, and I am committed to doing as the same as senator."

In 1998, the U.S. Justice Department set up the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force Program to help state and local law enforcement agencies.

The program was created to help protect the increasing numbers of children and teenagers using the Internet.

The Justice Department said the program seeks to stop the proliferation of child pornography and growing online attempts by predators seeking contacts with potential underage victims.

Since ICAC was created 15 years ago, the Justice Department reports it has reviewed more than 280,000 complaints of alleged child sexual victimization in the United States and 17 foreign countries, leading to the arrest of more than 30,000 individuals.

In the U.S., ICAC investigated more than 180,000 allegations of sexual victimization, which led to more than 16,500 arrests, Rockefeller and Manchin pointed out in a news release.

The ICAC is part of the Justice Department's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

On Tuesday, Rockefeller and Manchin also announced more than $150,000 in federal funds will go to the Rape Prevention and Education program, run by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.

Rockefeller, a co-sponsor of the Violence Against Women Act, said, "Making sure West Virginians are safe in their homes and in their communities is so important, and we must do everything possible to reduce sexual violence.

"Improving education and building awareness are two smart and effective ways that we can try to reduce the incidence of sexual violence in our state."

Manchin said, "There are few crimes more devastating or terrifying than sexual assault and domestic abuse. ...

"We need to work together to educate people in our communities to help prevent such horrifying acts from happening and to make sure all individuals are safe from sexual and domestic violence."

The RPE program, which gives states grants to strengthen programs to prevent sexual violence, is funded by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.

Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.


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