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Kidnapping survivor fights for change to protect children online

MADISON (WKOW) — In this digital age, danger lurks everywhere and children are most at risk.

27 News is digging deeper into what’s being done in Wisconsin to protect your children from online predators.

Alicia Kozakiewicz knows those dangers all too well. At just 13 years old, she was kidnapped by someone she met online.

“On New Year’s Day 2002, I walked outside to meet somebody who I thought was my friend and he kidnapped me and he took me from my Pittsburgh, PA home to Virginia where he held me captive in his basement dungeon. I was raped and beaten and tortured, he kept me chained to the floor by a locking dog collar and I thought I was going to die.”

Alicia met her captor in an online chat room and he live streamed her abduction.

“They were able to track down his IP Address through one of the screen names that he had.”

Four days later, she was rescued by the FBI.

Alicia’s kidnapping was one of the first nationally reported cases where the internet was used to get to the victim.

“I started looking around in the world and I saw that this was going to continue to happen, that my friends were still online, that this was going to happen to other children and that there was no internet safety education being taught in schools. Nobody was talking about this,” she says. “I created Alicia’s Project and started going into schools and talking to kids about how to stay safe online.”

Her advocacy has led to change in Wisconsin. Alicia worked with The National Association to Protect Children to get Alicia’s Law passed in 2016.

“It provides funding, resources, boots on the ground so they can investigate these kinds of crimes and they can go out and actually rescue children.”

The law secures state funding for the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.

“I’ve heard that over 1,000 predators have been caught in the two years since its’s been passed. It’s been incredibly effective.”

Now Wisconsin’s Attorney General wants to expand ICAC and is asking for more money in the state budget.

The Wisconsin Department of Justice also has a new partner in fighting internet crime.

Agent Kozak is an electronic storage detection K9, named after Alicia Kozakiewicz.

Kozak can alert agents to hidden flash drives, SD cards and cell phones.

Special Agent Tami Taubel says Kozak is a vital part of investigations. “Not only does he find things that are missed, but just for peace of mind for investigators, every house we go in you don’t know if you’re missing something. With him we know that we’re locating everything.”

Brett Banner has joined Kozak at those crime scenes as a Special Agent with the FBI.

He worked on the Violent Crimes Against Children unit for 14 years.

“With our law enforcement partners, we’re constantly sharing intelligence with each other.”

The FBI also promotes cyber safety, through the their free program for children called Safe Online Surfing.

“That’ll teach them all sorts of things, anywhere from how to create a safe password, not to share pictures online, who you should be communicating with,” says Banner.

For parents, the simplest line of defense is talking to your kids.

“Take the time to go through different websites, to research, to learn different acronyms, to learn about the different applications that they’re using,” says Alicia. “It’s been an incredible journey to take this horrible awful thing that happened to me and to give it a purpose.”

Protecting your children online can seem overwhelming, with everything that’s out there.

The Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force has a number of links to help you navigate, including this guide to protecting your children online.  It walks you through privacy settings step by step on different devices and applications.

Amber Noggle

Anchor, 27 News at 5, 6 and 10

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