SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - WTOC continues our investigation into the growing problem of sex crimes against minors in Georgia.
In the last of our investigative series looking into the issue of sex crimes against kids, we explore why the Child Exploitation and Cyber Crimes Unit of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation says it needs more funding. The unit already has the largest team of GBI investigators, but the GBI agent in charge says the formula is very simple: if they get more money, they can save more kids who are in trouble.
It takes a lot of money to rescue kids and teens involved in sex crimes. Julie Wade, Executive Director of Park Place Outreach, says all organizations in this field depend on money to run.
“Our funding here at Park Place is diverse from government funds, to United Way funds, to partner businesses and individuals, so we have a very diversified funding,” says Wade.
Whether it’s at the local, state, or federal level, GBI agents tell WTOC there isn’t enough money to end sex crimes against children and teens.
“We need people, we need people to help work the cases,” says GBI Special Agent Debbie Garner.
The Department of Justice has secured millions of dollars in grants to help all 50 states fight internet crimes against children and the amount keeps increasing. In 2003, the Department of Justice allocated $12.4 million and in 2018 that amount increased to $28.6 million.
Debbie Garner says the number of sex crimes with minors is growing too fast.
“Even though we are the largest investigative office, the GBI has 230 plus agencies that are part of our task force, we still can’t keep up with the workload,” says Garner.
She admits the hardest part of the job is not being able to rescue every child.
“We have to prioritize these cyber tips and we know that there are some that we may not get to fast enough and that literally breaks our hearts,” says Garner.
To help, the GBI is turning to technology until they can secure more funding to fight sex crimes against minors.
“We will have to use technology to overcome that to help us prioritize our cases. There are companies that are helping us do that,” says Garner.
The specialized unit’s efforts are working. Over the last five years, the GBI and its affiliates have made just over 1,400 arrests specifically related to sex crimes involving minors.
Anyone with knowledge of child pornography, sex trafficking, or the online enticement of minors can call the national tip line at 1-800-THE-LOST = 1-800-843-5678.
You can also report online at www.missingkids.org.