Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul | File Photo

Local and state police along with federal authorities are working together to help combat increasing cases of child pornography and child exploitation in Illinois, the attorney general announced Monday.

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul, along with Acting U.S. Attorney for the Central District of Illinois Douglas J. Quivey, Illinois State Police Director Brendan Kelly and Sangamon County State’s Attorney Dan Wright held a press conference Monday morning.

Raoul announced the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, managed by the attorney general’s office, will offer a series of webinars to help families ensure children are safe online.

Raoul also unveiled a new mobile forensic unit that will provide support to law enforcement conducting child pornography investigations in communities throughout the state.

“Reports of child pornography and child exploitation have increased over the last several years, and that trend does not show signs of stopping. Protecting children and helping them foster healthy interactions online requires a collaboration involving parents and guardians, educators and law enforcement,” Raoul said.

The mobile forensic unit allows task force investigators executing child pornography search warrants to process digital evidence in the field.

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The mobile unit, which was funded using federal ICAC grant money, allows for three computer evidence recovery technicians to process digital evidence such as cell phones, hard drives and laptops.

The unit provides storage, Wi-Fi and printing capabilities and serves as a location where investigators and attorneys can confer onsite.

Since acquiring the mobile forensic unit in September, the ICAC Task Force has partnered with federal, state and local law enforcement officials to conduct investigations in Livingston County, the Metro East and Winnebago County, which resulted in suspects – in one case, a Rockford police detective – being charged with child pornography offenses.

“My Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force allows local, state and federal law enforcement to share resources to identify and apprehend offenders who prey upon children through apps, social media and the internet,” Raoul said.

“I am encouraging families and educators to also take an active role in digital safety, and my office’s webinars will teach them about the apps their children might be using and how to identify the signs that a child has been victimized,” he added.

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Raoul’s office, with a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, runs the ICAC Task Force that investigates child sexual exploitation crimes, trains law enforcement agencies and provides online safety education to children and adults.

Illinois’ ICAC Task Force is one of 61 ICAC Task Forces throughout the country and is comprised of a network of more than 225 local, county, state and federal law enforcement agencies, and the task force covers 101 of Illinois’ 102 counties.

The task force receives CyberTips — online reports of child pornography — from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Since 2019, the Attorney General’s ICAC Task Force has received more than 13,353 cyber tips and been involved in more than 150 arrests of sexual predators.

Over the last several years, CyberTipline reports have steadily increased. Raoul said that it is projected there will be a 23% increase in reports in 2021 from 2020.

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The trend is in part due to increased reporting and awareness by social media platforms and apps, according to the attorney general’s office.

Raoul is encouraging parents, guardians and educators to participate in a series of free online training hosted by the attorney general’s office that will provide information to help children develop healthy internet habits.

The online safety webinars will teach parents about the apps children and teens may be using, how to help youth navigate aggressive online behavior, how to help children foster healthy online interactions, and how to identify signs that a child or student may have been a victim of online child solicitation.

The series will begin on October 7 and webinars will take place at 6:30 p.m. on the first Thursday of each month. Interested parties should email karilyn.orr@ilag.gov to register.

Those who wish to report suspected online child sexual exploitation can contact local law enforcement or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children CyberTipline at 1-800-THE-LOST.