Six years ago, Alicia Kozakiewicz says she was just a normal 13-year-old girl. That all changed on New Year's Day 2002. Today, she recounted for Congress how an online sexual predator befriended her in an Internet chat room, then kidnapped her, drove her across state lines and locked her in a cage in his basement, where he beat her, tortured her and raped her.
"I cry inside. I mourn for that child that was me. The child that was stolen from me. Make no mistake -- that child was murdered. I know now that some parts of me are forever there. The child that I was is still chained in that room, still suffering."
Kozakiewicz warned the House Judiciary Committee of the widespread dangers of Internet sex crimes.
"The boogey man is real. And he lives on the Net. He lived in my computer -- and he lives in yours," she said, looking at the lawmakers. "While you are sitting here, he is at home with your children."
Kozakiewicz was rescued by FBI agents. She is now a 19-year-old college sophomore. Scott Tyree of Herndon, Va., was convicted of the crime and is serving a 20-year prison sentence. Not only did he beat, torture and rape Kozakiewicz, he also posted online pictures of her taken while she was locked in his basement.
Committee members were urged by fellow lawmakers to take legislative action against online sex crimes.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., cited a "dearth of federal resources devoted to investigating and prosecuting child exploitation and crimes."
She cited Flint Waters of the Wyoming Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, telling the committee, "right now there are nearly 500,000 identified individuals in the United States trafficking child pornography on the Internet. Law enforcement knows who they are and where they are. What shocked me the most and what compelled me to get involved in this issue is that due to a lack of resources, law enforcement is investigating less than two percent of these known 500,000 individuals."
"Sometimes the problems we face as a Congress are extremely complex and other times the solutions are simple and right in front of our eyes," she said. "There is no mystery about what we need to do now to save thousands of children from abuse and exploitation."
Wasserman Schultz has introduced the Protect Our Children Act of 2007.
"The Internet has unfortunately become an easy avenue for predators to find unsuspecting victims," said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash. "That is why I have introduced legislation, the Sex Offender Internet Prohibition Act of 2007, which imposes mandatory penalties, five to 10 years in prison, for individuals who are required to register as sex offenders and knowingly access a Web site with the intent to communicate with an unsuspecting child. This bill sends a clear message to sex offenders that if they use these Internet sites to contact children, they will go to jail."
Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, R-Colo., touted her bill, the Child Pornography Elimination Act of 2007.
"Although current law prohibits the possession, trafficking or transport of child pornography, a person who uses a computer to knowingly access child pornography intending to view it, and who then views that child pornography, can arguably avoid criminal liability as long as he or she does not download or print the images. The law must be amended to ensure that these offenders do not escape liability because of a technicality in the law, and this is something my bill does. It will criminalize the knowing access of child pornography."
The committee also heard testimony from federal officials, as well as experts in the fight against online sex crimes.
The FBI estimates that there may be as many as 50,000 child predators prowling the Internet.
"There can be no tolerance and no retreat in our efforts to combat this scourge. We cannot and will not rest until these predators are shut down and locked up," said Michael Mason, executive assistant director of the FBI's Criminal, Cyber, Response and Services Branch.
Mason highlighted a variety of FBI efforts, such as Project Safe Childhood, which "brings federal, state and local law enforcement and prosecutors together in task forces led by the local U.S. attorney to combat online child sexual exploitation"; coordination with "Internet service providers and search engine operators to monitor their Web sites and to alert us when they discover illegal content"; and the training of "more than 16,000 law enforcement officers to handle digital forensic evidence" and improve the way the FBI "performs computer forensics and delivers the processed results to investigators."
Laurence Rothenberg of the Justice Department urged Congress to "establish a mandatory minimum sentence for possession of child pornongraphy," noting that "child pornography is not treated as seriously as it should be."
Michelle Collins of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which has a CyberTipline to apprehend those who use the Internet to victimize children, urged the committee to "take a serious look at the dangers threatening our children today and to move decisively to provide law enforcement with the toolsit needs to identify and prosecute those who target our children."
Waters cautioned lawmakers that a lack of resources is harming efforts to address this problem. "We are overwhelmed, we are underfunded and we don't have the resources we need to save these children," said Waters. "The price we pay for coming up short will be measured in children lost."
"Predators use the Internet to infiltrate social networking sites to arrange meetings with minors, where they use brute force to commit sexual offenses -- or worse," said Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich.. "We cannot allow the Internet to be a playground where our children are one mouse-click away from sexual predators."
However, it was Kozakiewicz's testimony that carried the most weight. "Support the children," she pleaded to the committee. "Save us from the pedophiles, the pornographers, the monsters."