The Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) task force program was created by the Department of Justice (DOJ), through the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), in 1998. Due to the increasing internet access from home, law enforcement saw an increase in complaints about child sexual exploitation. Strangers now had access to kids in the very place they should be the safest…at home. The ICAC Program was developed and began via a grant offering to local and state agencies to begin combating the problem.
When the program began, there were ten (10) grants awarded through OJJDP to start ICAC task forces. The number of task forces has grown to sixty-one (61), with some states having two or more.
The Bedford County Sheriff’s Office was one of the first ten (10) agencies selected in 1998 to become an ICAC Task Force. The original area of operations included all of Virginia and West Virginia. The task force was known as Operation Blue Ridge Thunder. In 2004, a second ICAC Task Force was created in Virginia and is administered by the Virginia State Police, covering the northern part of Virginia, including Washington, D.C. In 2006, a task force was created in West Virginia and is administered by the West Virginia State Police. The task force through the Bedford County Sheriff’s Office is now known as the Southern Virginia Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (SOVA-ICAC)
The SOVA-ICAC Task Force combats the rise of online child sexual exploitation on several fronts. This involves investigating online child sexual exploitation, providing technical and forensic assistance to local agencies, and providing education and public awareness to the community. There are currently over 150 agencies that are members of the SOVA-ICAC Task Force.
Investigations can take many forms and focus on attempting to identify offenders who prey on children and to identify children who have been victimized. Reactive investigations are those that result from a complaint made by a member of the public or received as a Cybertip from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). Proactive investigations are those initiated by law enforcement who “go where the predators are,” and work to identify who they are and prosecute them. These investigations can involve file-sharing of child sexual abuse materials (CSAM), soliciting children for online or offline sexual encounters, production of CSAM (i.e., ”child pornography”), and child sex trafficking/prostitution.
The task forces also provide technical assistance to member agencies. This can be through training opportunities and equipment or providing manpower and technical expertise during search warrant execution and evidence handling. Forensic services are also provided to be able to safely extract digital evidence from devices obtained as part of the investigation.
Educational opportunities are provided via presentations, public events, and public awareness campaigns. Whether given at schools, to church groups, civic organizations, or any other gathering of people, a presentation can be made regarding online safety and child exploitation that is appropriate for the audience in attendance. During festivals or other events where a presentation to a single audience is not available, a booth or tent with awareness materials and the ability to speak with task force members one-on-one can be provided. Some task forces can also provide child identification services at no charge to the parents or guardians. Education via public awareness campaigns may come from a dedicated billboard or advertisement to interviews with the broadcast or print media.
ICAC stands for Internet Crimes Against Children. The ICAC Task Force program was an initiative started in 1998 by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. The Bedford County Sheriff’s Office was one of the first ten task forces in the United States when it started in 1998.
If you think your child is a victim of online child sexual exploitation, there are several things you should do to help law enforcement have the best chance of locating and prosecuting the offender. There will be a surge of emotions when you find out your child has been victimized, which is normal, but it is important to act calmly. First, preserve any evidence. Do not continue to look through data or electronic devices that were used by your child, as it may alter or destroy digital evidence. If possible, secure any online accounts, make sure you know the login and password information for the accounts, and keep the device charged/powered on until law enforcement can collect it. Disconnect from the internet, wireless, Bluetooth, etc…if a mobile device, place into airplane mode. Do NOT delete any messages or images/videos, no matter how explicit they may be. Do NOT contact the offender and tell them you are calling the police. This may seem like common sense, but in the heat of the moment, it happens more often than one would think.
You should attempt to contact your local law enforcement agency first, especially if it is an emergency involving immediate risk to the life or physical safety of a child. In this case, dial 9-1-1. If you live in Virginia, you can look at the Task Force Affiliate Agency list and see if your agency is a member of the SOVA-ICAC Task Force. If you live in Northern Virginia, you can check the website for the NOVA-DC ICAC Task Force to see if your local law enforcement agency is a member of that task force. You can also report 24hrs a day via The National Center For Missing and Exploited Children’s Cybertipline. This can be done by phone at 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678) or online here. When making a report through NCMEC’s Cybertipline, you do have the option of making an anonymous tip, but please keep in mind that making an anonymous complaint may result in law enforcement not being able to contact you for additional information they may need to further an investigation.
While we wholeheartedly understand the desire to help, we cannot condone cyber vigilantism or accept any cases/leads developed via intentional investigations performed by non-law enforcement investigators. Investigators must receive extensive training related to legal investigative techniques, avoiding entrapment issues, preserving evidence, etc. Not knowing what is required for successful prosecutions, a non-law enforcement person attempting to do their own investigations may inadvertently violate someone’s rights or commit an act that causes any evidence obtained to be thrown out. In addition, predators will often send Child Sex Abuse Material (CSAM) via picture or video to people they are communicating with. They may send it to a child (or who they think is a child) to show the child that other kids are doing what the predator is encouraging the child to do. They may also send CSAM to adults that they think are like-minded. Either way, you could end up in possession of CSAM, putting yourself at risk of being prosecuted for violation of both state and federal law.
Education is key! As parents, we have a responsibility to teach our children about the dangers they will face online and what to do if and when something happens. Communication at an early age, at age-appropriate levels, is paramount. Discussing topics like appropriate touch and appropriate behavior are important and should be consistent and reinforced frequently. Know that many children will be exposed to some sort of sexually explicit content years before you think they will, and often well before parents even think about having “the talk” with their child about puberty and healthy sexual behaviors. Begin having those discussions very early on, at age-appropriate levels, but start setting the foundation for trust and open communication. Teach your children what to do when they are exposed and that they can come to you without being ashamed or embarrassed. Take time to learn about the devices you choose to allow your children to use. Know and use parental controls, restrictions, and notifications. Control screen time. A simple web search can also provide a wealth of information to educate yourself and help educate your children. Here are some resources you can use.
As part of our task force mission, we provide presentations to groups of all ages and types. We would be happy to come to speak with your group, though we ask that the audience is of similar make-up (i.e., adults-only, teens, middle schoolers, younger children, etc.). Request a presentation.
Our Child ID program is a free service we can provide at your public event. We will bring all the equipment to digitally fingerprint and photograph children (with parental/guardian consent), with all information saved to a CD-Rom, and given back to the parent/guardian. We do NOT keep or store any information about the child other than maintaining the signed consent form. In the event a child goes missing, the parents/guardians will have current pictures, fingerprints, and other important data in one place to easily provide to law enforcement to try to help locate and identify the missing child. You can request a Child ID team for your event.
Once a report is given, analysts begin reviewing the complaint and forward to the ICAC Task Force with jurisdiction.
Law enforcement will review to determine if there is an actual violation of state or federal law.
Law enforcement may need to contact you for additional information. It is extremely difficult to investigate anonymous complaints, and often times they need additional information to develop probable cause to obtain legal process to identify the suspect.
If a criminal violation has occurred, law enforcement will investigate to try to determine who the suspect is and will consult with the appropriate prosecutors for appropriate charges if a suspect can be identified, after a search warrant is executed and evidence obtained.