Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed three bills aimed at protecting child sex abuse victims during his visit to the Stafford County Public Safety Center Wednesday. (Photo by Taft Coghill Jr.)

‘An important step:’ In Stafford, Youngkin signs three bills to protect child sex crime victims

by | May 23, 2024 | ALLFFP, Government, Stafford

When Spotsylvania County Commonwealth’s Attorney Ryan Mehaffey stepped to the podium Wednesday at the Stafford County Public Safety Center, he began citing a recent Washington Post report that disturbed him. 

The article was about a Wisconsin man who allegedly used Artificial Intelligence to create more than 13,000 images of children engaging in sexual acts. 

Steven Andregg, 42, faces four charges of creating, distributing and possessing child sexual abuse material and sending explicit material to a child under 16. He could serve up to 70 years in prison if found guilty in what is believed to be the first U.S. child pornography case involving false images created by AI. 

Mehaffey was concerned because, in Virginia, no existing law addressed the creation of AI-generated child pornography images. 

He approached Sen. Tara Durant (R-Stafford) about sponsoring a bill in the General Assembly that would make AI-generated child pornography against the law. 

Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed the bill Wednesday in front of a large crowd of local and state government officials as well as law enforcement officers in Stafford. 

Gov. Glenn Youngkin speaks during an event in Stafford where he signed three bills that aim to prevent the sexual exploitation of children. (Photo by Taft Coghill Jr.)

It was one of three bills signed by Youngkin that day to protect young sex crime victims.  

“Before this bill, a child predator caught with child porn could claim it was just computer-generated images, not images of actual children, which was required by law to be prosecuted as child pornography,” Mehaffey said. “So, short of identifying the actual child depicted in any video, how was the Commonwealth supposed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the child porn images were not computer generated?” 

Mehaffey said the bill, SB731, is imperative because it defines obscene images of children as child pornography whether an actual child is involved or not.  

He said it keeps child predators from walking free on “technicalities” after trial. He said the bill should be a trendsetter around the nation in combating sex crimes against children. 

Mehaffey said the bill met some resistance when Durant presented it, but it ultimately passed the house and senate unanimously. 

“This was a really important step in the right direction to combat against child pornography and this new world that we’re living in with AI technology,” Durant said. “We’re moving into unchartered territory, and there is nothing more important right now that we are working on to fight for than the safety and security of our most vulnerable, the children.” 

Youngkin said AI creates “unending challenges” and this bill likely will not be the only legislation involving the constantly evolving technology. He said there are many gaps in the Virginia code that will need to be corrected by a combination of concerned citizens and state legislators. 

“Who would’ve thought that we would need to literally amend the definition of pornography so that it includes images of children engaging in sexually compromised moments even if that child doesn’t actually exist?” Youngkin said. “What an important step we are taking to combat just one of the most horrific crimes that exists today.” 

The two other bills Youngkin signed Wednesday passed with bipartisan support. 

HB1427 gives judges more discretion in determining criminal penalties for misdemeanor sexual battery and sexual abuse of a child age 13 or older, but younger than 15. 

Rowan Danielsen, a teenager from Farmville, spoke Wednesday about his experience of being asked by a man to get in his vehicle while riding his bicycle home and later learning that the man was a sex offender. The bill was sponsored by Del. Michael Webert (R-Fauquier). 

The third bill signed by Youngkin in Stafford is SB201, which was introduced by Sen. J.D. Diggs (R-Yorktown). The bill creates the Codi Alert, named after Codi Bigsby, a 4-year-old who was reported missing from Hampton in 2022. The bill creates an emergency alert system to assist anyone younger than 18 whose whereabouts are unknown, and their disappearance is suspicious or poses a threat. 

The Codi Alert differs from the Amber Alert in that the latter deals specifically with abducted children. Also, the Ashanti Alert is for adults believed to be abducted. 

“Every one of these bills will make a difference,” Youngkin said. “Every one of these bills will protect children … Therefore, I think we need to remind ourselves that protecting children is not just a policy decision, it is a moral obligation that each and every one of us collectively must embrace.” 

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