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Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Kimberly’s Center, local law enforcement partnering to combat internet crimes against children

The Kimberly’s Center for Child Protection, Marion County Sheriff’s Office, and Ocala Police Department have established a local partnership to combat the skyrocketing number of internet crimes against local children and teenagers.

Last year, there were 32 million cyber tips that were related to child sexual exploitation, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).

Since 2015, NCMEC states that there has been a 1,000% increase in online enticement of children by sexual predators. In 2019, 43% of the children depicted in child sexual abuse material were prepubescent.

Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) is a task force that was started by the United States Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) in 1998.

According to the OJJDP’s website, the ICAC program is a national network of 61 coordinated task forces representing more than 5,400 federal, state, and local law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies to prevent internet crimes against children.

ICAC task forces focus on catching distributors of child sexual abuse material on the internet, whether delivered or solicited online and distributed through other channels, as well as catching sexual predators who solicit victims on the internet through chat rooms, forums, and other methods.

Ocala/Marion County is part of the ICAC North Florida Task Force Program. To mitigate the devastating impact on children and teens in Marion County, the local ICAC partnership seeks to expand its efforts by delivering education and training opportunities to empower law enforcement, parents, educators, and youth about the dangers that are becoming more prevalent.

“The internet crimes our ICAC detectives address in our community are deeply concerning,” stated Chief Michael Balken with the Ocala Police Department. “This collaboration between Kimberly’s Center, the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, and the Ocala Police Department is an essential step in protecting our kids and teens in the digital age. We wholeheartedly support this partnership as education and awareness are vital tools against internet crimes targeting our youth.”

During next week’s Give4Marion event – the Community Foundation for Ocala/Marion County’s annual 33-hour day of giving campaign – Kimberly’s Center will be promoting this initiative to seek the community’s financial support in an effort to help solve this critical issue facing local children and teens.

According to Kimberly’s Center, all donations that are secured during the nonprofit organization’s Give4Marion campaign will be designated to the ICAC collaborative, supporting investigations, training, and awareness. In addition, these donations would be maintained by Kimberly’s Center and used to support the work of the collaborative in the following ways:

  • Training and support for law enforcement, the Florida Department of Children and Families, and caregivers.
  • Education and community awareness activities.
  • Victim-related services such as trauma counseling and safety planning.
  • Increase technology capacity to assist in sexual abuse cases with technology-facilitated overlay.

“This program is critical because it supports the victims and strengthens the criminal cases to support and protect children and teens in our community. Education and awareness are the best defenses against Internet crimes against children, and this collaboration seeks to provide our community with these tools,” stated Dawn Westgate, Executive Director for Kimberly’s Center.

To make a donation to this program, or to support other local nonprofit organizations, visit the Give4Marion website. Donations for the fourth annual campaign will be accepted beginning at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, September 19 through 7 p.m. on Wednesday, September 20.

During last year’s Give4Marion event, over $770,000 was raised for 87 different nonprofit organizations.

For more information about the Kimberly’s Center for Child Protection, visit the nonprofit organization’s website or Facebook page, or call 352-873-4739.