Actor David Keith Leads Fight For Child Protection

June 01, 2009

A UMNS Report

By Kathy L. Gilbert*

May 21, 2009 

Alicia Kozakiewicz was 13 when she found out the bogeyman does exist.

A lonely, shy, bored teenager, she found the perfect friend inside the computer in her Pittsburgh bedroom. In "real life," her new best friend was a middle-aged, sadistic pedophile in Virginia.


After months of grooming Alicia to trust him, he convinced her to meet him at the end of her driveway on a cold January night. He dragged her into his car, drove her across state lines and dumped her into hell - a cage in his basement.


But Alicia is one of the lucky ones.


Her tormentor taped his brutal attacks and shared them online with his friends. A tip to the FBI in Tampa, Fla., helped Internet Crimes Against Children investigators locate him and send the agents to knock down his door and save Alicia.


"The FBI, the ICAC are my angels," Alicia said, testifying before a congressional hearing in 2008. "I like to say they can walk on water but they don't need to - angels have wings."


Army of angels


For this one happy ending, there are thousands more children that will not be rescued. Actor David Keith wants that to keep people awake at night. He wants his church on the forefront of this war.

Keith, who grew up as a United Methodist and is a member of First United Methodist Church in Knoxville, Tenn., is the campaign chairperson of Promise to Protect, a national organization dedicated to the protection of children from abuse and neglect. If he looks familiar, you may have seen him on the big screen. Among other roles, he was Richard Gere's buddy, Sid Whorley, in "An Officer and A Gentleman."


"United Methodists are known for their love, they're not known for carrying a big stick. But I think it is time we showed people that we're as tough as any religion and I want us to lead the way on this war," he said.


The United Methodist Board of Church and Society, the denomination's social justice agency, endorsed the work of Promise to Protect after Keith addressed a board of directors meeting.


"It would mean the world to me to get the endorsement of my church," he said.


In an interview with United Methodist News Service, Keith explained child sexual abuse and child pornography are intertwined.


"In this country, 96 percent of all child sexual abuse is done in the child's family or in their inner circle of trust--making child pornography in this country literally a mom-and-pop cottage industry. It is horrific. ... It would boggle anyone's imagination to really know the facts," Keith said.


Almost as horrible as the abuse of children is how easily it can be stopped if law enforcement had the funds to hunt down the sexual predators online. They have the technology, just not the money, Keith said.


Tracks in cyberspace


Promise to Protect was founded in 2002 after Grier Weeks, a political activist, read an article in Parade magazine about a bill in North Carolina to protect children who were victims of incest.

"I had been involved for years in politics and became increasingly disillusioned about partisan fighting often for things that weren't really that important," he explained. He became convinced that it was his "sacred obligation" to protect children.


Promise to Protect has done big things with a small staff and budget, Weeks said. Keith has been instrumental in raising funds for the campaign, he added.


"The thriving, flourishing market for pornography has given us a roadmap to find where the people are who are preying on children," said Weeks. "They have left their tracks all through cyberspace."


The organization scored a major victory in 2008 with the passage of the Protect Our Children Act. That bill allocates $50 million for child rescue task forces such as the one in Virginia that saved Kozakiewicz.


The most important element of the bill was a mandated national computer system for law enforcers to track child pornographers, Weeks said.


"We can't find them all"


Promise to Protect worked with Wyoming Special Agent Flint Waters to develop the computer system.


Waters said by law enforcement's lowest estimate there are more than 350,000 people trading images of children being raped and sexually abused in the U.S. He said in at least one of every three arrests for child pornography possession a child victim is found.

"You gotta pray hard and you've gotta pray strong and tough. You've gotta shut everything out and get in the dark. ...Don't do it while you're watching TV. Get on your knees and pray that this problem ends." - David Keith

"There are times in this line of work when you find yourself staring into the eyes of the children in these movies and apologizing," Waters said in a hearing before Congress. "We apologize because we can't find them. We can't find them because there are just not enough people or resources to help."


Less than 2 percent of Internet child pornography possession is investigated, he said.


"I am here today to testify about what many of my colleagues in law enforcement cannot come here and tell you. We are overwhelmed, we are underfunded and we are drowning in a tidal wave of tragedy," he said. "The good news is we know how to find these predators and they are just a subpoena away from arrest."


Pray without ceasing


Keith says people of faith can do the most powerful thing on Earth: Pray.


"You gotta pray hard and you've gotta pray strong and tough. You've gotta shut everything out and get in the dark," Keith said. "Don't do it while you're watching TV. Get on your knees and pray that this problem ends."


Another way to help is to join Promise to Protect for $35 a year. For seniors and students it is $10, he said.


"If we had two million members, we could rock this issue to the core. We could truly wage this war."


*Gilbert is a news writer for United Methodist News Service in Nashville, Tenn.