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Task force continues war to curb Internet crimes against youth

Sports reporter

The Internet represents an effective resource that can enhance children's education.

But the national and global nature of the Web creates the potential for youth becoming the victims of sexual predators.

Last week, the Utah Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force arrested five men or allegedly using the Internet to arrange to arrange to have sex with a child.

The number breaks the task force's national record of four arrests in one night.

The number also tops a previous record of three arrests in a single night.

In addition, the investigative roundup was unusual because four of the suspects arrived at the scene in the same vehicle.

"It's the first time we've had a car load of guys show up to have sex with an underage girl," pointed out Ken Hansen, Utah ICAC Task Force director. "The most disturbing aspect of all this is that they may have abused two young girls six weeks earlier."

The five suspects purportedly used Internet chat rooms to contact undercover officers posing as children.

A recently conducted survey revealed that one in five teenagers has received an unwanted online request to engage in sexual activities or provide sexual information, pointed out the attorney general's office. One in four youth has been exposed to online pornography.

Two-thirds of Utah households have a computer and nearly one-half have Internet connections, continued the attorney general's office. In fact, Utah ranks first in the United States on the national home computer access list.

Internet crimes present complex technical and investigative challenges for law enforcement, explained the Utah Attorney General's Office.

The global nature of the Web requires close coordination among federal, state and local government agencies.

Assistant Utah Attorney General Paul Amann will review the evidence compiled in connection with last week's arrests and screen the cases for criminal prosecution.

"The Utah Attorney General's Office has spent a lot of time and energy warning the public about sexual predators on the Internet," stressed Amann. "These arrests make it clear that predators are still out there and that children are still at risk on the Internet"

In order to strengthen the war to protect youth at locations across the state, the attorney general's office encourages Carbon County residents to remain on constant alert for e-mails or files containing child pornography.

In addition, local adults should monitor chat room exchanges involving juveniles younger than the age of 18 years old for sexually explicit messages.

In the event sexually explicit materials have been transmitted to minors via the Internet, authorities recommend that Carbon County citizens:

•Refrain from attempting to copy or forward the images or messages.

•Turn the computer off immediately to preserve the evidence.

•Contact local law enforcement agencies and call the Utah Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force c/o the state attorney general's office at (801) 538-9600.

Task force investigators have received specialized training and assistant attorneys general are cross-designated as the prosecutors to ensure suspected offenders are charged in the appropriate state or federal criminal justice system.

To date, the Utah ICAC Task Force has made more than 250 arrests since the law enforcement agency started nearly four years ago.

Last year, the task force received the Federal Bureau of Investigation Director's award for excellence for uniting different agencies to fight crimes against youth and Internet child pornography.

The multi-jurisdictional task force includes agents from the Utah Attorney General's Office, the FBI, state corrections, the department of public safety, the adult probation and parole office as well as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

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