More money budgeted for Del. child protection unit [video]

 (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

(AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

The state’s Joint Finance Committee approved funding to add a second prosecutor to Delaware’s Child Predator Task Force.

Joe Rogalsky, the director of legislative and external affairs with the Delaware Department of Justice, said the funding will be in the budget that the General Assembly will pass next month when the fiscal year ends.

Rogalsky said the much-needed second attorney will lighten Deputy Attorney General Abby Rodgers-Layton’s load.

Layton is the commander of the child predator task force and currently prosecutes all of the cases herself.

“We could probably execute a search warrant a day, every week, and still have cases to develop,” said Layton, whose unit executes one search warrant a week on average.

Partnering with state and local police, the unit’s four investigators proactively seek out predators who lurk online to meet children. They also work reactively, responding to tips.

However, as social media and technology develops, Layton said there is a growing trend of child predators who go beyond sharing pornographic pictures.

“These people are grooming these children for relationships, friendships to start, but for the purposes of ultimately having sexual contact with them,” Layton said. “It makes sense when you think about it. Why do people look at car magazines? Because they’re interested in cars … So the people who are looking at child pornography have an interest in having sexual contact with children.”

The child predator task force has convicted 44 people since January 2013, for a total of 190 convictions since the task force was established by Attorney General Beau Biden in 2007 as part of a federal push cracking down on internet crimes against children.

Since 2007, the child predator task force has rescued 120 children who were actively abused or being groomed for abuse.

An important update to existing laws

Biden and his team made the pitch for extra manpower before the Joint Finance Committee in February. In addition to the funding, the task force will also get help from recently-passed legislation, specifically House Bill 256, which received unanimous support from members of the General Assembly.

State Rep. Debra Heffernan sponsored the measure that makes it a chargeable offense to solicit either a child or an undercover officer posing as a child online.

“What it does is it updates the laws that cover sexual solicitation of a minor … to include new and all forms of electronic communication,” Heffernan, D-Brandywine Hundred South, said. “It also takes away the need for an actual meeting, whereas just setting up a meeting is enough to be the crime.”

By eliminating the “fantasy” defense, Layton said the bill also closes a loophole that child porn defendants took advantage of in the past.

“The offender can not later say as an affirmative defense, ‘I was just pretending, I was never going to act on this relationship with this child.’ … Once that offender has the conversation with the child, the crime has been committed,” Layton explained.

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WHYY ran a story about the Delaware Child Predator Task Force on First, which airs Fridays at 5:30 p.m. and 11 p.m. 

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