Newsletter - Spring 2009
Message from the Executive Director
When parents buy their teenager a laptop, or their young child a cell phone, they do not necessarily think about the potential dangers that also go along with accessing the Internet-especially as new technologies are constantly being developed, and parents often struggle to keep up with the latest inventions.
Today, 96 percent of all teenagers are online in some capacity. Studies show that children are going online at younger and younger ages. The fastest-growing segment of Internet users is now pre-schoolers. Many kids use the Internet at school by the time they are six years old, and children as young as four and five are also surfing the net, as websites like Webkinz.com appeal directly to young users.
With this increased usage of the Internet also comes an increase in potential abuse.
The newest threat is the everyday harm kids inflict on one another in chat rooms, social networking sites, virtual worlds and via text messages.
Tales of cyberbullying crimes are cropping up around the country as more children and teenagers wage war with one another on computers and cell phones. Cyberbullies, as they're called, hide behind the relative anonymity of the Internet to intimidate, insult and harass others online, without much fear of consequence. More than half of American teens are affected by cyberbullying, according to the National Crime Prevention Council. Yet most parents are largely unaware of the problem, as very few teens report incidences of bullying to their parents or other adults.
It is not just cyberbullying that parents should fear. Today's teens are also electronically distributing nude or risqué self-portraits, in a practice called "sexting" when it is done by cell phone. With an estimated 90 to 95 percent of school kids carrying cell phones, sexting has rapidly grown prevalent among teenagers. Police have investigated more then two dozen teens in at least six states this year alone for sending nude images of themselves, resulting in students facing consequences ranging from suspension to felony charges when their explicit text messages-even those that are intended to remain private-are quickly passed on to wider audiences, with or without their consent. Not only can such images humiliate the students who are featured in them, but they can also be memorialized on the Internet or cached indefinitely by online search engines.
And even as more and more children are waging war with one another online, parents also need to continue to fight against adult online predators who are savvy in their attempts to reach our children. These predators may use initial online contact to try to lure our children into face-to-face meetings for reprehensible purposes. Many state and federal laws are in place to regulate cybercrime and Internet predators. The laws govern issues ranging from targeting child porn and reducing unsolicited email or spam directed at children and teens to extending wiretapping authority to help catch online predators before they strike.
Lawmakers, law enforcement officials and the online industry, especially social networking sites, need to continue to refine those laws and industry regulations to limit the potential for predators to meet up with children.
But the best prevention starts at home. Just as parents talk to their children about the importance of not getting into a car with a stranger, they need to talk to their children about the rules for the cyberhighway. Parents also need to become both computer- and Internet- savvy if they are going to allow their children to use these tools for both scholastic and social purposes.
These are enormous problems for parents to combat, and they are often problems with hidden victims, as these crimes are under-recognized and under-reported. To help raise awareness of the importance of online safety, Stop Child Predators is proud to have partnered with Americans for Leadership Technology to promote Safer Internet Day-a day which promotes safer and more responsible use of online technology and mobile phones among children and young people.
In the weeks leading up to Safer Internet Day, we encouraged parents to follow five easy steps to help families stay safer online.
- Make sure kids respect one another online and abide by good behavior. They should not write or post anything that could bring harm to themselves or someone else. The web is a lot more public and permanent than it seems.
- Talk to your children about the responsibilities of being online and how their own behavior might put them and the family at risk. Make sure kids know they can come to you when something makes them feel uncomfortable without fear of losing their Internet privileges.
- Place the family computer in a common place in your house and use family safety software so you can restrict the websites your children visit, monitor who they contact, and limit the time they spend online.
- Tell your children that they should never physically meet with anyone they have only become "friends" with online. Kids may think they know them well, but they may be fooled.
- Make sure children know that they should never share personal information online, including their address, phone number, Social Security number, current school or when they will be on vacation. All of these things create a personal profile that a predator could use for nefarious purposes.
Safer Internet Day took place across the world on February 10th. The initiative started in 2004, and last year over 120 organizations in 56 countries took part in the Safer Internet Day events.
As always, if you have any questions or comments you would like to share, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
INTERNET SAFETY IN THE DIGITAL AGE
Stop Child Predators Supports Legislation Restricting Access to Child Pornography, Urges Congress to Pass Informed P2P User Act
Stop Child Predators (SCP) applauded Members of Congress in early March for introducing bi-partisan legislation that will help prevent the proliferation of child pornography by requiring peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing distributors to obtain the informed consent of users before information on their computers is shared. The Informed P2P User Act of 2009 is similar to last year's HR 7176, and was introduced by Reps. John Barrow (D-GA) and Mary Bono Mack (R-CA).
P2P programs allow Internet users within the same networking program to connect with each other and directly access files from each other's computers. Napster was the first such program, and since then numerous other file-sharing programs have been launched, making P2P one of the fastest-growing uses of Internet technology. Many people use P2P software on their personal computers for legal (and sometimes illegal) file sharing. What many people fail to realize, however, is that many of these programs can make all of their computer files available to anyone else using P2P software.
Studies have shown that users of P2P applications have unknowingly exposed their tax returns, health records, business documents and other confidential information through file-sharing programs. In addition, P2P applications can be used as vehicles for the distribution of illegal child pornography. While the very availability of such content on these systems is in itself abhorrent, even worse is that these files are often deliberately labeled with seemingly benign titles such as "Pokémon," "Hannah Montana," and others that appeal to children.
When a child searches for popular terms on a file-sharing service, he or she runs the risk of being exposed to child pornography. To make matters worse, because these programs automatically share any file that is downloaded onto a user's computer, the child may unwittingly become a worldwide distributor and publisher of the same pornography to which he or she was exposed, making it more likely that others will be exposed as well.
Requiring full disclosure of file-sharing programs' capabilities, and ensuring users' informed consent to sharing their own files with others, represent concrete steps toward safer and more productive use of P2P file-sharing software.
Use of the Internet to disseminate child pornography is a pervasive problem. Last year, SCP filed comments with the Federal Communications Commission arguing that any new rules governing broadband industry practices should not interfere with the ability of Internet Service Providers to make sure their networks are not used to transmit child pornography. SCP also weighed in on United States v. Michael Williams before the United States Supreme Court. This case was an appeal from a federal court ruling that struck down a law prohibiting individuals from marketing and trafficking child pornography on the Internet. In June 2008, the Supreme Court upheld the law.
Online Safety Awareness Campaign Passes Congress
Stop Child Predators (SCP) commends Members of Congress for passing bi-partisan legislation that directs the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to build a public awareness campaign to promote online safety. The legislation also establishes a working group comprised of key leaders from industry, non-profit organizations and other interested groups that will study the impact of online safety education on children, and report its findings to Congress.
Motivated by SCP's recognition that the constant development of new Internet technologies requires a comprehensive approach to protecting kids from online threats, Stop Child Predators assisted in drafting model legislation last summer that included provisions for online safety curricula to be used in school districts, increased post-conviction controls on convicted sex offenders, and monitoring tools parents can use to control their children's access to the Internet. Building on the legislation's passage in about a dozen states, SCP launched a new initiative called Stop Internet Predators-an online safety campaign designed to increase awareness of the child safety implications of emerging Internet technologies.
IN THE STATES
States Join Online Safety Battle
During the month of March alone, lawmakers in Alabama, Maryland, New Jersey, and North Carolina took important steps to help make sure their laws are keeping up with the pace of technology and the threats kids face online.
New Jersey's State Assembly, for example, passed eight Internet child safety bills addressing issues like reducing the online anonymity of Megan's Law registrants, criminalizing the communication of sexually suggestive materials when sent from an adult to a child, stalking, identity theft and more. Congratulations are due to Attorney General Anne Milgram and the State Assembly for their leadership on these issues. The measures still need to be considered by the Senate and signed by Gov. Jon Corzine in order to become law.
These achievements are certainly laudable, but there's more work to be accomplished. New Jersey lawmakers failed, for instance, to enact a bill that would have provided penalties for inappropriate communication sent through social networking sites. In Maryland, members of the Assembly stripped the felony provision from a child pornography bill. Lawmakers missed out on the opportunity to address these issues, at a time when kids are inflicting harm on one another in record numbers in chat rooms, social networking sites, virtual worlds and text messages, and when the proliferation of child pornography is at an all time high.
We'll continue to monitor these states, and others, and work to ensure that safeguards are put in place to protect our children from online predators-which can sometimes mean protecting them from other kids.
Stop Child Predators Partners with McGruff Safe Kids to Promote Child Safety
Manchester Mayor signs proclamation for 'Stop Internet Predators Awareness Day'
Stop Child Predators (SCP) and McGruff Safe Kids joined Manchester Mayor Frank Guinta as he announced his commitment to joining with local law enforcement agencies and interested organizations in finding ways for parents and community members to work together to protect children from online predators. He declared February 3, 2009 as "Stop Internet Predators Awareness Day."
"I am happy that Manchester is the first New England community.to recognize the efforts of Stacie Rumenap and the Stop Internet Predators national organization in playing an important role for the protection of our youth online," said Mayor Guinta. "Protection from online predators is an important facet of an overall public safety effort to make our society safe for children, and the hard work by Stop Internet Predators does that."
Stop Internet Predators, a project of SCP, was launched last year to raise awareness nationwide about emerging technologies that threaten the safety and security of children.
SCP found that parents are often unable to keep up with the rapid development of new technologies that can pose risks for children and families. This lack of awareness renders responsible parents unable to take the necessary steps to protect their families. Through state-by-state and city-by-city campaigns such as the one in Manchester, however, Stop Internet Predators is helping to increase awareness about the possible dangers of new online applications.
The following is an excerpt from the Mayor Guinta's Proclamation:
The City of Manchester and local law enforcement is committed to protecting children from sexual abuse and exploitation.the national campaign Stop Internet Predators seeks to increase awareness and educate these audiences with safeguards to protect their children.I, Frank C. Guinta, Mayor of Manchester, N.H., do hereby proclaim February 3, 2009 to be Stop Internet Predators Awareness Day, and urge all citizens and community organizations to join in the observance.
McGruff the Crime Fighting Dog was on hand to greet kids as they entered the event. There, kids were finger-printed and photographed as part of the McGruff Safe Kids identification kit given to parents to use in the event their child goes missing. By empowering families with education and resources, SCP and McGruff Safe Kids are confident parents can take an active role in their children's safety.
Mandatory Sentences for Convicted Sex Offenders Approved by Vermont Lawmakers
After nearly a year of scheduled hearings and receiving comments from the public, Vermont lawmakers announced at the end of February they had successfully agreed on tougher criminal penalties for convicted sexual predators.
Lead by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard Sears, Vermont legislators worked with house and senate colleagues, administration officials, law enforcement officers, child advocates and victims' families to include in the new law a 25-year mandatory minimum sentence for child sex offenders and a requirement that schools focus more on prevention efforts.
Stop Child Predators' Executive Director Stacie Rumenap testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in August 2008, emphasizing that mandatory sentences for convicted offenders are the most effective tool in protecting children from sexual predators.
The hearings were launched in the wake of the July 2008 murder of local 12-year-old Brooke Bennett. Her body was found one week after she disappeared. Bennett's uncle, a convicted sex offender, has been charged in the case.
The governor is expected to sign the legislation into law.
Wisconsin Governor Misplaces Budget Priorities Putting Children at Risk, says Guest Columnist Wisconsin State Rep. Scott Suder
Which do you think would be a better use of GPS technology and taxpayer dollars: tracking sex predators or tracking golden eagles?
Believe it or not, that's actually one of the questions buried inside the state budget this year. And the answer would actually be a little funny, if it weren't so sad. Because contrary to any logic or common sense, Governor Doyle is softening GPS tracking of child predators while his Department of Natural Resources is simultaneously launching a program to use GPS to track the migration patterns of golden eagles in Western Wisconsin and Minnesota.
The contrast is stunning: which would you think the state should want to know more, if an eagle is nesting in a tree on this side of the river or the other, or if a predator is sitting in a car across the street from a playground?
As part of his proposal for the state's two-year budget, Governor Doyle has asked for the repeal of active, real-time GPS tracking for the worst child sex predators after just one year of probation. Current law, which I worked four short years ago with Governor Doyle to pass in the first place, requires real-time, lifetime GPS tracking for the worst of the worst sex predators. I am appalled that the governor would want to remove law enforcement's ability to know immediately if one of these dangerous criminals goes near a playground, a school, a day-care center, or any other place where children congregate.
Governor Doyle's current proposal would switch the tracking from active, meaning round-the-clock tracking with real-time updates, to passive, which sends a report of where the person has been in the past 24 hours when the GPS device is recharged. In the worst-case scenario, if a crime is committed, the best we could expect is to place the criminal in the vicinity of the crime, but far too late to do anything about it. In fact, a top Corrections official categorized the governor's changes to the predator monitoring system best when he said: "if an offender on passive monitoring enters an area that is off limits, the state is only alerted when the record is sent, and not when the transgression occurs." Translation: we won't know until it's far too late.
Keep in mind, this is the same Governor Doyle who while running for reelection in 2006 said: "GPS will help law enforcement know exactly where these people are every minute of every day and if they go someplace where they put kids in danger and violate their probation, we'll know immediately and we'll put them back behind bars." Now, the governor is gutting the system he took credit for just two short years ago.
The same day the governor laid this goose egg, it was reported that the DNR plans to use the same technology to track golden eagles at a cost of $1,500 per year, per bird.
During these tough economic times, when every dollar matters, the Doyle administration is willing to spend money to track the migratory patterns of eagles, while at the same time repealing 24 hour electronic surveillance of the worst child predators in the state to save some money. These are the kind of misplaced priorities that should infuriate the public, and they sure make it tough to argue with folks who think that politicians don't live in the real world.
More than forty states require GPS tracking of high risk sex offenders. Many of these states are facing similar budget shortfalls to Wisconsin. States like Florida and Kansas, national leaders on GPS tracking, haven't called for a cut or repeal of their tracking programs to solve their deficits. In fact, in Florida where the budget deficit is expected to surpass $6 billion, the state recently outfitted parole officers with PDAs to provide real time updates on the whereabouts of offenders under their control. These states are committed to using the best technology available to deter future crimes against children. Wisconsin should follow their lead.
I truly believe that one of our state's top priorities should be the protection of our children and the safety of our communities. That is why I will be working with a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers, state and national victims rights groups, and law enforcement to maintain the active lifetime GPS tracking requirements for any person who rapes a child in Wisconsin. We simply cannot allow these dangerous criminals to have the element of surprise back on their side.
If you share my outrage for the governor's repeal of active GPS tracking for child rapists, I encourage you to call him at (608) 266-1212 and tell him that the protection of our children should remain a top priority. While you're at it, contact your own state legislators and ask them to stand against these changes to GPS tracking that could put children at risk.
Rep. Suder represents Wisconsin's 69th Assembly District. He may be reached at (608) 267-0280.
For more information concerning the initiatives in your state, or if you would like Stop Child Predators' assistance in drafting, testifying for, or supporting legislation in your state, please visit our website at http://www.stopchildpredators.org and/or call us at (202) 234-0090.