Authorities stress Internet dangers
As the Internet access continues to expand into the far reaches of every rural community and children become savvy at younger ages, criminals are targeting a new generation of victims.
Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff issued a warning this month, stating that online predators are becoming a bigger menace and that stronger steps are needed to stop these "insidious crimes" against children.
Shurtleff's statement came in response to a recent Harvard University study concerning Internet predators on MySpace and other social networking sites.
"Our Internet crimes against children task force has seen a nearly 40 percent increase in the number of arrests even though we do not have any more investigators," pointed out Shurtleff via the Jan. 14 release. "We are finding more Internet predators and we cannot stress enough that parents need to find out what their children are doing online."
To detail the dangers, a report released by the office of justice programs at the United States Department of Justice indicates that electronic and imaging technology facilitate production and dissemination of pornography.
"Such concerns have led to legislation and to additional initiatives involving federal and local law enforcement, aimed at inhibiting the production, sale and dissemination of pornography depicting juveniles," indicates the USDOJ report. "These measures are also directed at the dissemination and sale of pornography to minors."
The Utah report commissioned by the National Association of Attorneys General concludes: "Sexual on minors by adults, both online and offline, remains a concern. Youth report sexual solicitation of minors by minors more frequently but these incidents, to, are understudied, under reported to law enforcement and not part of most conversations about online safety."
Shurtleff agrees with the report that critical steps need to be taken, including:
â¢Providing more education about online safety.
â¢More training for law enforcement.
â¢Developing new technology to protect youth on the Internet.
Across the nation, one of the tools that may help law enforcement control this problem is the FBI's national incident-based reporting system (NIBRS). The crime statistics network, which replaced the uniform crime reporting system, allows for the first time the tracking of crimes that involve pornography and child exploitation. Ultimately, by using the new network, law enforcement will be able to follow the numbers, locations and characteristics of such crimes over time and across the nation to monitor their trends and their potentially changing nature.
Of the juvenile victims identified in conjunction with pornographic crimes 62 percent were female, 25 percent were members of the offender's family, 59 percent were teens, 28 percent were elementary school age and 13 percent were pre-schoolers, according to the USDOJ report.
While these statistics seem grim, Shurtleff points out that the more recent Harvard study contains encouraging information about enforcement and education efforts but fails to provide a remedy to increase reporting and stop sexual predators.
More information about safe online conduct can be found at the attorney general's site at www.attorneygeneral.utah.gov. However the following are some tips outlined by Shurtleff's office for cautious parents.
The site has outlined specific instructions for parents or guardians who come upon an Internet crime.
Adults who discover youth have received emails containing child pornography, solicitation of a sexual act or explicit image should not attempt to copy or forward messages on the computer. Instead, people should turn off the monitor to preserve evidence and call the Utah task force at 801-281-1255 or email Chris Ahearn at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In addition, the site recommends obtaining filtering products that enable adults to block certain Internet activities. Some programs block sites based on key words that suggest it might contain objectionable material, while others restrict a child's ability to access chat rooms, or receive and send e-mail.
While the site would not recommend and specific software they did comment that no safety product is a worthy substitute for a parent's involvement in their child's online activities.
"Despite budget difficulties the Utah Attorney General's Office will continue developing strategies to combat the twin evils of child pornography and child predators," concluded Shurtleff. "We are grateful that social networking sites and Internet service providers are joining us in the discussion but we will push them to do more to keep children safe."