Newsletter - Summer 2009
Message from the President
The rise of Internet usage by America's teens have some questioning whether the Internet is to blame for the fall of the family.
USA Today reported that from time around the dinner table to watching television, families in the United States say they are spending less time together. And while the decline coincides with a rise in Internet usage, a poll of 2,030 people ages 12 and older, conducted in 2008 by the Annenberg Center for the Digital Future at the University of Southern California, finds that 28% of Americans said they have been spending less time with members of their households-up from 11% in 2006-but declined to say spending more time online was the reason their family was spending less time together. Other surveys found that 90% of teens and tweens planned to spend much of their summer vacation online, which makes it hard to conclude that the Internet is not at least one reason families are spending less time together.
Today, 96 percent of teenagers are online in some capacity, and most of those teenagers are online every day. Studies show that the fastest-growing segment of Internet users is pre-schoolers. So as schools closed their doors for the summer months, and kids looked for ways to spend hot summer days, it is only natural they gravitated to what they are used to doing-going online. Of course, having more time to spend online may not be all bad.if parents used the summer months to highlight safety, and in some cases, learn it themselves.
When parents buy their teenagers a laptop or a cell phone, they do not necessarily think about the potential dangers that 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. It is important for parents to know that exploiting kids on the Internet is all too common as sexual predators attempt to groom and lure children into face-to-face meetings for reprehensible purposes. Even kids themselves exploit one another in chat rooms, social networking sites, virtual worlds and via text messages.
These are enormous problems for parents to combat, problems with hidden victims as these crimes are under-reported. But with a few easy guidelines, parents can help their kids navigate the Internet more safely.
First, keep an eye on who your child contacts and the amount of time your child spends online–it's the final days of summer after all, pull the bikes out of the garage, go hiking, sailing, on a picnic, just turn off the computer and get to know one another all over again.
Second, when your child is on the Internet, monitor your child's activities by placing the computer in a family-friendly area in your house. Don't forget to also monitor other points of Internet access like cell phones and gaming consoles. And remember, monitoring software can be installed on a computer that allows you to view what websites your child visits, incoming and outgoing email, etc.
Third, review your child's online profiles to ensure they are not revealing personal details or information that might be used for the wrong reasons. Kids can unknowingly give out what could be dangerous information. Even if your child does not use a last name online, for instance, and never lists your address, they still leave clues to who they are, what they look like and how to find them.
Fourth, stress to your children that they should never physically meet anyone that they have only become friends with online.
Finally, encourage your children to talk to you about any inappropriate communication they might receive.
There is no one simple solution that can completely protect children from bullying, pornography, sexual predation and other online threats. The constant development of new Internet technologies requires constant awareness of the child safety implications of those innovations. With more than 77 million children nationwide using the Internet, we owe it to our kids to teach them online safety, and it is just as important for parents to learn the risks of the Internet in order to help their family have a safe and secure online experience.
As always, if you have any questions or comments you would like to share, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SCP Names New President, Changes Offices
Stop Child Predators (SCP) announced the appointment of Stacie D. Rumenap as president. She replaces Viet D. Dinh who resigned as president to join SCP's advisory board of directors. Rumenap served as SCPs executive director for the past three years and brings with her extensive insight and experience into legislative affairs, non-profit management and a dedication to ending the sexual exploitation of children.
As president, Rumenap will manage the day-to-day operations of SCP and will be responsible for developing partnerships and coalitions with similarly motivated organizations; providing guidance and assistance to state and federal lawmakers to bring about legislative change; and lead Internet safety training programs in our nation's schools.
"Sadly, most states don't go far enough in their efforts to protect children from sexual predators," said Rumenap. "Worse, even though most teens are spending more and more time on computers and the Internet, most schools aren't teaching Internet safety. I look forward to continuing the vision Viet and our advisors set forth when launching SCP to promote child safety both in the physical and online worlds."
SCP has also moved offices to 1419 37th Street, NW, #108, Washington, DC 20007. Our phone and fax lines changed to (202) 248-7052 phone and (2020) 248-4427. Email and our website remains the same.
SCP Joins Safe Internet Alliance in Effort to Promote Safer Internet, Educate Users
SCP's president to serve on the board of directors
Stop Child Predators (SCP) joined leading Internet safety organizations to form the Safe Internet Alliance, a nonprofit 501(c)(4) organization that promotes a safe Internet and better educates and protects all users-especially children, teens and the elderly-from Internet corruption, crime, and abuse. Safe Internet Alliance brings together broad public and private support for a safe Internet through online safety organizations, law enforcement, non-profits, industry associations, businesses and the media. The organization marked its official formation with the launch of its website in May, where a list of partnering organizations can be found.
"Stop Child Predators is proud to join a group that strives to provide the public with a comprehensive platform to facilitate dialogue, cultivate best practices and encourage awareness about the growing risks online," said SCP's Stacie Rumenap, who also serves as the treasurer to Safe Internet Alliance.
Safe Internet Alliance's leadership has strong ties to online safety advocacy. Rumenap joins the board of directors along with Linda Criddle, president of LOOKBOTHWAYS, Inc., an online safety consulting and software development firm; Scott Cleland, founder and CEO of the Precursor Group; Joy Howell, a former director of the Office of Public Affairs of the Federal Communications Commission; and Alma Rioja, president and CEO of MANA, a national Latina organization.
In early June, the Safe Internet Alliance applauded President Barack Obama's announcement of a major new comprehensive U.S. cybersecurity program. Leveraging both civilian and military capabilities, the program's initiatives will better enable public and private partnerships to, as President Obama said, "find technology solutions that ensure our security and promote prosperity."
Linda Criddle, president of Safe Internet Alliance and member of InfraGard's Evergreen State Members' Alliance, said, "President Obama's announcement provides a timely validation for our new organization. Safe Internet's growing membership knows firsthand that cybersecurity is an enormously complex issue that touches every industry, organization, community and family. We simply cannot allow criminals and abusers to hijack and corrupt the Internet. Together we can work to bring safety and civility online, enabling everyone to confidently take advantage of the great opportunities the Internet provides."
SAFETY IN THE STATES
Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana Calls for Stiffer Penalties for Sex Offenders
Gov. Bobby Jindal signed into law nine bills toughening penalties for sex offenders.
Most of the measures Gov. Jindal signed change existing statutes by lengthening maximum prison sentences and fines. One measure would allow new fines of up to $1,000 and prison terms of at least two years for convicted sex offenders who remove electronic monitoring devices.
The Jindal administration scrapped a tenth proposal that would have ordered post-release psychological counseling for a small group of offenders after deciding civil commitment would be too expensive - and after state lawmakers, including Speaker Jim Tucker, raised both constitutional and fiscal questions about the post-release proposal before the legislative session started in April. The bill would have cost an estimated $12 million over five years for surveillance equipment, medication and psychiatric evaluations.
Other bills Gov. Jindal signed into law include:
- Requiring applicants for jobs at public schools to disclose any previous sexual misconduct with a student.
- Expanding restrictions on convicted sex offenders by barring them from 1,000 feet of playgrounds, youth centers, public swimming pools and video arcades, in addition to existing restrictions related to schools and day care centers.
INTERNET SAFETY IN THE DIGITAL AGE
SCP to Host Cyber Safety Summit and Education Program
Calling all parents! If you live in the Orlando, Florida area, please join Stop Child Predators (SCP) on August 13th as we bring together leading safety experts to discuss the importance of educating children and their parents about online safety.
The summit is part of a series launched by SCP last summer that brings together lawmakers, law enforcement, school officials, and advocacy and child abuse prevention organizations to unveil a broad set of recommendations for how to protect children online.
The event will be held at 6:00 pm at the Educational Leadership Center located at 445 W. Amelia Street, Orlando, FL 32801.
Maryland Senate Passes SCP's Online Child Safety Bill
In March, the Maryland Senate approved legislation that would help parents restrict children's access to certain Internet sites.
Sen. Nancy King, D-Montgomery, sponsored the bill to give parents a tool to help keep kids away from predators and from websites they are too young to view.
The bill would allow Internet service providers to charge a fee for households that opt to use parental control features.
Stop Child Predators' (SCP) Stacie Rumenap testified before the House and Senate Judiciary committees in support of the measure. "Maryland's Online Child Safety Act empowers parents by requiring Internet access providers to make available to subscribers a product or service that allows parents to control their child's use of the Internet," she told lawmakers. "The need for such tools is especially paramount for parents who are relatively unfamiliar with computers and online services but who have children who are active, savvy users of the Internet."
The measure was amended to remove a provision that would have required the Maryland State Department of Education to develop guidelines for instruction on Internet safety.
Last year, SCP helped pass model legislation through the American Legislative Exchange Council and the Council of State Governments that empowers parents, educates kids, and helps law enforcement pursue and control online child predators. About a dozen states, including Maryland, have enacted various provisions of the model bill.
ACLU Sues Pennsylvania County D.A. for Threatening Teenage Girls with Child Pornography Charges
This spring, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit against the Wyoming County, Pennsylvania district attorney for threatening three high school girls with child pornography charges over digital photos in which they appear topless or in their underwear. Known as "sexting," the practice of sending nude or semi-nude photos of oneself via cell phones or posting them on the Internet, has become increasingly widespread among teenagers.
A December 2008 survey commissioned by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and CosmoGirl.com found that approximately 20% of all teenagers have sent or posted nude or semi-nude pictures of themselves.
As the practice has increased some prosecutors are aggressively targeting the behavior, charging teens who send and receive such images with child pornography and other serious felonies. As with so many adolescent and teen practices enabled by ubiquitous access to cell phones and computers, the underpinnings of sexting are complex. In some cases, the photos are sent with the intent to harass other teens or to get attention. Other times, they are viewed as high-tech flirting. Either way, these photos are frequently making their way into the hands of hundreds of others, and in some cases are being posted to the Internet where a permanent record can exist.
In Wyoming County, Pennsylvania, the district attorney has asserted that the girls were accomplices to the production of child pornography because they allowed themselves to be photographed. The district attorney has not, however, threatened to charge the individuals who distributed the photos.
In February 2009, the district attorney sent a letter to the parents of approximately 20 Tunkhannock students threatening the students with criminal felony charges if they did not agree to be placed on probation and participate in a counseling program he devised.
The letter apparently was sent only to those who were discovered with the photos on their cell phones and the girls shown in the photos but not the students responsible for distributing the photos. The district attorney told a group of parents and students in February that he has the authority to prosecute girls photographed in underwear or even in a bikini on the beach, because the photos are "provocative."
The ACLU charges in its lawsuit that the D.A. is misusing his authority by threatening to bring child-pornography charges in order to coerce parents into sending their children to the re-education program and putting them on probation. The lawsuit claims this is a form of unconstitutional retaliation against the parents and children who assert their right not to be bullied into participation. The ACLU is asking the federal court to issue an order prohibiting the district attorney from filing criminal charges against the girls.
Stop Child Predators' President Stacie Rumenap noted in a March 2009 op-ed that "technology makes it easier to do and say things we might not do in person, which is why punishment for sexting ought to be a matter resolved by schools, parents and kids, without intervention from the criminal justice system. While technically viewed as illegal behavior, these incidents could also be construed as a naive exchange between young people oblivious to the far-reaching consequences. Many of the guilty are not even aware they are committing a crime.
"The main problem with sexting charges is determining who is guilty and who is not. In some cases, those who snapped the photographs have been charged; in other cases, it is those who received the images and stored them. Nonetheless, these acts are perpetrated by teenagers who do not have a basic understanding of child pornography laws. Rather than threatening legal action, parents and educators should take this opportunity to point out the potentially long-term repercussions of sexting," Rumenap concluded.
The Lone Star State Passes Legislation Requiring the Registration of Internet Identifiers for Sex Offenders
Governor Rick Perry of Texas (R) signed legislation that requires registered sex offenders to provide their Internet identifiers and cell phone numbers to the state sex offender registry in an effort to remove such offenders from online social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace.
Senate Bill 689, sponsored by State Senator Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, follows in the footsteps of a dozen other states that require the registration of electronic addresses including email, instant messaging and social networking identifiers, chat room nicknames, and other electronic addresses.
Stop Child Predators joins other child safety advocates in commending Gov. Perry, Sen. Shapiro, Attorney General Greg Abbott (R) and Representative Aaron Pena, D-Edinburg, for their efforts in increasing online safety for Texas' families and sending a clear message to sex offenders that they are not welcome on social networking sites, or anywhere near our children.
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) 248-7052.