Indiana official wants to ban sex offenders from Web sites

By Sue Loughlin, The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE— Vigo County resident Jackie Kellar has three teenage daughters who use Facebook and other Internet sites.

Similar to parents nationwide, she worries about some of the dangers out there in cyberspace, including sexual predators.

Kellar was glad to hear that Indiana"s attorney general, Steve Carter, and some state legislators are trying to pass a law to protect young people from some of those dangers.

Carter, who visited Terre Haute on Thursday, is pushing legislation to ban convicted sex offenders from using online social networking sites, chat rooms or instant messaging programs that allow minors to participate.

"We don"t have any restriction in Indiana that prevents sex offenders from being on those same social networking sites that our children are on," Carter said. "It"s time for us to pass a law in Indiana that restricts sex offenders" access to our kids via these social networks."

House Bill 1134, authored by Rep. Shelli VanDenburgh, D-Crown Point, incorporates the proposal.
The bill could receive a hearing next week before the judiciary committee, said Staci Schneider, Carter"s press secretary.

A survey by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children indicates that one in seven young people between the ages of 10 and 17 has received unwanted sexual solicitations online that tried to contact the youth in person, over the telephone or via mail. [Ed: Am I not mistaken but was it not this same
Center for Missing & Exploited Children that quoted figures of thousands of children abducted by strangers every year in the '80's? Why does anyone believe anything these people say? Perhaps it's because they WANT to. Hmm...]

The survey also indicated that one in three children has experienced unwanted exposure to sexual material on the Internet.

"The growth of the Internet and the ability to hide an identity is a challenge to parents and law enforcement alike," Carter said. A state law addressing the problem is a step in the right direction.
The proposed legislation would make it a class-D felony (punishable by six months to three years in prison) for a convicted sex offender to use a social networking Web site or instant messaging or chat room program frequented by minors.

The penalty would be increased to a class-C felony (punishable by two to eight years in prison) if the offender uses the program to contact a child or has a prior conviction under the law.
Four states have passed laws regulating a convicted sex offender"s use of and activities on social networking sites, Carter said.

Mark Miller, principal at Sarah Scott Middle School, is aware of some of the problems and dangers that can arise on the social networking sites. "It"s a potentially real dangerous problem," he said.

Miller supports legislation to ban convicted sex offenders from those sites.

Each year, convicted sex offenders in Indiana must register on a sex offender registry list. If the new legislation passed, Carter also would like to collect their e-mail addresses and user names when they register. That information would then be available to law enforcement.

While the new law, if passed, might be difficult to enforce, it still sends a message and tells predators they risk committing a felony if they access those sites, Carter said. [Ed: Oh, here we go, let's "send a message!" just to let everyone know how righteous we are. This is every bit the same as those who pray ostentatiously so that everyone can witness their sanctimony. And I'm convinced that that's what this is all about.]

State Sen. John Waterman, R-Shelburn, who attended Carter"s news conference, said the legislation is needed and that he would support it. [Ed: Ask yourselves, where is this going to end? What's next? Are we to continue giving these dreadful busybodies the benefit of the doubt as to their emotional stability? Why aren't more people questioning the motivation of these obsessive and irrational crusaders? Is it not obvious that it is THEY who suffer from dark and sadistic impulses? Why are so few questioning their priorities which are vastly out of proportion to any real threats?] Full Story

Perilous Web snares children
By George Brennan
January 06, 2008 6:00 AM

Zoie is 11 years old. She's having a tough time at home. Her father doesn't understand her, and her mom doesn't want to hear it. She likes in-line skating, going to the arcade and chatting on her computer.

Tommy says he's 11, too. He has the same interests and he can relate to Zoie's family woes.

Zoie is telling the truth. Tommy is not.

In just a few short encounters online, Tommy gets Zoie to share her phone number and favorite arcade. With the phone number and a Google search, Tommy has her home address in seconds and is ready to pounce.

It's a true story that Shaun Cahill, assistant director for youth programs at the Barnstable County Sheriff's Department, tells over and over in classrooms across the Cape.

It's a wake-up call about the dangers of the Internet, Cahill recently told a group of sixth-graders at Quashnet Elementary School in Mashpee.

These are not your father's perverts. They don't wear trench coats and stalk playgrounds. Instead, they lurk on social networking sites such as MySpace and Friendster waiting for someone to open up, so they can close in.

The problem isn't as dire as an episode of Dateline's "To Catch a Predator" might lead television viewers to believe. And it's not quite the media myth Benjamin Radford, editor of Skeptical Enquirer, makes it out to be.

"The truth is we just don't know," said Parry Aftab, an attorney and expert in Internet safety.

Internet predators have the attention of Congress, which is considering tougher penalties and creating a division in the Justice Department geared specifically toward cyber crime.

In Massachusetts, Attorney General Martha Coakley has made online safety a priority.

"There's an increasing number of children using the Internet and predators who realize the Internet is a great place for them to find victims," said Coakley, who worked on crimes against children as a prosecutor in Middlesex County.

In the past, most sexual assaults against children were by someone the child knows, but the Internet has changed that, Coakley said. "Twenty years ago, you were worried about the guy in the raincoat at the playground or a family member."

Close to home

On Cape Cod, three recent, high-profile cases involving Internet-related allegations were prosecuted by outside law enforcement agencies — one resulting in a conviction.

In 2004, an undercover police officer in New Hampshire, posing as a 14-year-old girl, had intimate chats with then-Sandwich police officer Michael Caico.

After he was indicted on a solicitation charge, Caico quit his job as a school resource officer before being fired. Ultimately, the charges against him were dismissed, mainly because he never set up a meeting with "Tammy." But a New Hampshire judge called Caico's online behavior "reprehensible."

Repeatedly, Caico asked "Tammy" for photographs and engaged in sexually laden conversation that fell just short of solicitation.

Prosecutors believe Caico, because he was a police officer, chose his words carefully online. His chats were cagey and calculated, prosecutors said.

In October 2006, a 17-year-old Bourne teen was lured to the home of a Georgia sheep farmer through an encounter on MySpace. The teen went willingly to Georgia but, once he got there, sent a text message to friends saying he was being kept against his will.

Ted Roy Williams, the Georgia man, was cleared of false imprisonment and aggravated sodomy charges in connection with his contacts with the Bourne teen, but last April pleaded guilty to charges unrelated to the Bourne case. Williams was convicted of one count of attempted child molestation and two counts of possessing explicit photographs of children, Coweta Judicial Circuit District Attorney Pete Skandalakis said. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison, five to be served.

Men aren't the only Internet predators out there, although experts say they make up the vast majority.

In September, a 25-year-old Dennis woman pleaded guilty to charges of fourth-degree sexual assault and using a computer to entice a minor in Connecticut, according to the Hartford Courant.

Sarah Colby was sentenced to 10 years probation after she was convicted of driving to Cromwell, Conn., to meet a 15-year-old boy she'd contacted through MySpace and online chats, the Courant reported. Among the terms of her probation, Colby cannot have contact with children under the age of 16, and she cannot use a computer or the Internet at home.

But the prize in the region catch came across the canal, where a team of law enforcement personnel known as HEAT — High-Tech Evidence Analysis Team — caught a newly elected Plymouth selectman in "Operation Trenchcoat."

In September, former selectman Sean Dodgson, 47, was convicted of six charges, including distributing obscene material to a minor and enticement of a child under 16. He was sentenced to three to five years in state prison.

Dodgson sent photos of an erect penis to what he thought were two 13-year-old girls. He arranged to meet the girls at a fast-food restaurant in Kingston but realized it was a police sting when he arrived. Investigators took note of Dodgson's behavior at the scene, dug further and charged him.

His defense for the sexually explicit chats and the lewd photos was that he was doing undercover work to make sure the police were doing their jobs.

The jury, after hearing the content of his explicit chats, didn't buy it.

In a recently completed sting, Operation Trenchcoat II snagged another six accused predators online, a spokesman for the Plymouth County Sheriff's Department said.

Surfing with care

Aftab and Cahill don't believe sexual predator cases should scare children off the Internet. They preach using the Internet with care.

Parents need to be tuned in to their children's computer use, Aftab said.

Teens need to protect the information they give away online, according to Cahill.

Internet predators are not typically registered sex offenders. They are people who feel insulated by the keyboard, Aftab said. They test the boundaries, and sometimes children bite.

"Kids are communicating online with people they know to be adults, and they think it's cool because they're safe," she said.

Parents worry their children will be abducted, but that's not usually the biggest risk, Aftab said. "Internet predators get your heart, not your house."

That's why giving too much information about favorite movies and music is not a good idea. "It allows the bad guys to find a way into the kid's heart," Aftab said.

The insidious nature of Internet predators is demonstrated in the Zoie-Tommy scenario, Cahill said.

Tommy made the right connections, hit the right buttons.

"When I was younger, parents would always tell us, 'Don't talk to strangers,'" Cahill said. "When you open up the Internet, you are inviting the whole world in."

Social networks such as MySpace allow users to keep their profiles private. But Cahill makes sport out of getting teens to let him view their pages. Before he did an Internet safety program with local high school students, Cahill contacted teens online under an assumed name. They welcomed him, even though none of them knew his identity. "It's easy," he said.

Making up user names and phony cities isn't enough to keep predators at bay, either, Cahill said. He's been able to identify teens by searching the comments and profiles of their online friends. In some cases, he's seen teens exchange telephone numbers online.

There are safeguards that teen and preteen Internet users can take, Cahill said. "If you don't know the person outside of a computer, you don't let them on your buddy list," he said.

To drive home his point that Tommy was not who he said he was, Cahill shows a photograph of a middle-aged man, butt-naked, with rolls of fat covering his private parts, as he sits at a computer screen. There are audible "eeewwwws" from the preteen audience at Quashnet School and one student blurts out, "That is disturbing."

It's the effect Cahill wants. "This is who I want you to envision when you go online," he said.

George Brennan can be reached at

Fighting the problem

A bill before the U.S. Senate and passed by the House in November would establish $1 billion in spending over the next eight years to beef up and coordinate prosecution of online crimes against children by creating a Justice Department office specifically for prosecuting cyber criminals. The bill would also fund Internet safety programs for schools. Separate bills, also approved by the House, would make distributing pornography over the Internet an interstate crime and would allow probation officers to better monitor the online activity of convicted sex offenders.

* In his campaign for president, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has proposed a "One Strike, You're Ours" policy, according to a campaign press release. Romney's policy would have mandatory penalties for first-time offenders who use the Internet to sexually assault children. It also calls for Internet sex offenders to be monitored by GPS. Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O'Keefe and Barnstable County Sheriff James Cummings both endorse Romney's proposals.
* In December, Attorney General Martha Coakley's office hosted more than 180 middle school teachers, high school teachers and law enforcement officials from across the state at a series of regional Internet safety seminars to teach them how to expose online dangers to parents, teens and young children. Officials from Bourne, Brewster and Provincetown were among those who participated in the seminar, which is part of Coakley's effort to make fighting cyber crime a top law enforcement priority, a spokesman for the AG's office said.

Source: U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz's Web site, presidential candidate Mitt Romney's Web site, Attorney General Martha Coakley's office.