By Charles Couch
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – The House of Delegates has restored funding for Alicia’s Law, a two-year-old effort targeting sexual abuse of children, after Democrats said Gov. Bob McDonnell’s proposed state budget shortchanged the program.
McDonnell planned to transfer $1.3 million from the Internet Crimes Against Children task force, a police unit created by Alicia’s Law, to the state’s general fund. But in a unanimous vote Thursday, the House approved restoration of the ICAC funding.
“This program is essential for finding and prosecuting the most horrendous crimes imaginable,” said Delegate Mark Sickles, D-Franconia, who introduced the budget amendment.
Delegate Robert Bell, R-Albermarle, offered the amendment instructing the governor to use the funds for their original purpose, Sickles said.
“It would be wrong to use this dedicated money for other purposes, and I thank my colleagues today, on both sides of the aisle, for restoring the full amount,” Sickles said.
Before Thursday’s House session, Sickles was joined by two ICAC officers and Alicia Kozakiewicz, the woman for whom the law is named, during a press conference at the state Capitol. They voiced their opposition to the lack of ICAC funding in the governor’s budget.
In 2002, a Virginia man abducted, tortured and raped Kozakiewicz, who was 13 at the time. She has since traveled across the country as an advocate for PROTECT, a nonprofit organization that seeks to protect children from physical, emotional and sexual abuse.
“If you steal this money, you are stealing hope from children who are living in absolute hell, a hell I know all too well,” Kozakiewicz said during the news conference. “What’s being done to children in Virginia and across America is a human rights atrocity.”
The General Assembly in 2010 enacted Alicia’s Law, which mandates that individuals convicted of a felony or misdemeanor pay a $10 court fee that goes directly into the ICAC fund. This money supports the technologically intensive work performed by task force officers, said Richmond Police Department Detective Kevin Hiner, who works with the ICAC.
“We are completely reliant on funding from the ICAC program,” Hiner said.
In Richmond, ICAC officers have filed more than 100 felony charges and executed more than 34 search warrants since the task force’s inception, Hiner said.
“We’ve rescued at least 10 children from active abuse,” Hiner said. “That’s 10 we’ve confirmed.”
However, ICAC task forces have a backlog of suspects who should be arrested, Hiner said. His desk alone holds roughly 50 warrants awaiting execution.
“These are offenders that may or may not be sexually assaulting children, and we’re trying to get to them as fast as we can,” Hiner said.
Alicia Kozakiewicz first brought to Virginia by force in 2002, after being taken from her home in Pittsburgh, by Scott Tyree, a man who contacted her over the Internet.
“I was just 13 years old, just a child, and I was being abducted by a sexual predator, by a Virginian,” Kozakiewicz said Thursday during a press conference.
Tyree raped and tortured Kozakiewicz for four days while he held her captive in his basement, which she described as a sadistic dungeon.
Years later, Kozakiewicz wanted to protect children from similar crimes so she teamed up with PROTECT – a nonprofit organization that lobbies for legislation cracking down on physical, emotional and sexual abuse against children – to launch the Alicia’s Law campaign.
In 2008, Kozakiewicz came back to Virginia to get the reform enacted here.
“It was unbelievably difficult for me to return. So many horrendous memories,” Kozakiewicz said. “But I had to come here to Richmond.”
Kozakiewicz said former Delegate Brian Moran, D-Alexandria, helped guide her through Virginia’s legislative process. Finally, the General Assembly voted to pass Alicia’s Law in 2010.
“I was able to go back home in 2010, believing that Virginia had seen the light and that I could go on with my life,” Kozakiewicz said. “Yet here I am again. I’m back in Virginia fighting again and this just isn’t right.”
Currently, California, Mississippi and Tennessee have also enacted versions of Alicia’s Law.