Beware of Internet predators

While the Internet can be a useful tool for information and for shopping, it also can attract people who want to exploit and harm children. Let’s face it, most of today’s children know more than their parents when it comes to computers and surfing the net. I remember my first computer. I was in my first year of law school and bought a Tandy computer. It had no hard drive, and definitely no modem. Now, kindergartners work on computers and are exposed to them throughout their schooling. Through the use of today’s technological advances, our children can go places and see things that we aren’t even aware exist. And people can reach our children through email and the Internet and we have little, if any, control over these communications. Many teens and pre-teens socialize on the Internet. These contacts expand their opportunities to learn, but sometimes there is a dark side: sexual exploitation. A 1999 survey of 1,501 young people between the ages of 10 and 17 showed that one in five have been solicited sexually over the Internet in the past year. The Crimes Against Children Research Center reported that one young person in five had an unwanted exposure to pictures of naked people or people having sex. One in seventeen was threatened or harassed. The survey results suggest that the young people who were interviewed encountered a substantial number of online sexual solicitations, exposure to unwanted sexual material, or harrassment. The Crimes Against Children Research Center released the survey results in June 2000. The entire report “Online Victimization: A Report on the Nation’s Youth” is free and available at www.missing kids.com. In June 2000, the Texas Attorney General announced the arrest of five men for aggravated sexual assault of a 12-year old girl from Schertz, just outside of San Antonio. The men contacted the girl through an Internet chatroom and arranged to meet her privately. Between December 1999 and May 2000, the girl met the men in an Internet chatroom on Yahoo. In each of the five cases, messages were traded between the girl and the adult male which led up to a meeting and ended in sex. Fortunately, the twelve-year old eventually told her parents, who contacted the police. After a month-long investigation, the five men were arrested and charged with aggravated sexual assault. We are not powerless in the fight for a safe, G-rated Internet for our children. There are many resources for policing the Internet. Through an initiative between the Texas Attorney General and Texas Internet Service Providers, consumers can complain to their Internet Service provider about child pornography. After confirming that the pornography originated in Texas, the provider forwards the complaint and the material to the Attorney General’s Internet Bureau. Within two weeks, the Office of the Attorney General will inform the provider of the investigation and any prosecution. The provider then monitors the suspect’s account to turn over information when subpoenaed by a court. Another resource is the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). To help law enforcement investigate cyber-crimes against children , the NCMEC offers the following programs: a 24-hour toll-free hotline, 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678), managed by the MCMEC on behalf of the U.S. Customs and U. S. Postal Inspection Services, and Federal Bureau of Investigation; and www.cybertipline.com, which allows online computer users to report information regarding the enticement of children for sexual purposes, child prostitution, child-sex tourism and the possession, manufacture, and/or distribution of child pornography.

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