Serves the guy right. He got his butt kicked!
Monday, October 29, 2007
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Of course he only gets a slap on the wrist, he's the mayor's son.
The son of the Woodridge mayor was sentenced today to 30 days in jail for trying to have sex with a 15-year-old girl he met on the Internet.
William F. Murphy, 33, of Schaumburg, also must register as a convicted sex offender, serve 30 months' probation and undergo counseling if deemed appropriate.
Murphy pleaded guilty last month to indecent solicitation of a child charges. DuPage Associate Judge Mark Dwyer ordered him to begin the jail stint Nov. 16.
Police arrested the Geneva attorney June 7, 2006, in a Winfield park where an undercover officer posing as the girl on the Internet agreed to meet him for sex. Authorities began talking to Murphy about two months earlier.
Murphy told them he believed the girl to be a 15-year-old Wheaton cheerleader.
Prosecutor Ken Tatarelis said Murphy initiated the graphic conversations, often asking questions about her sexual experience, whether she liked older men and describing sexual acts that they could do together if they met.
"The offenses took place during two months of chats in which he solicited her seven times," Tatarelis said.
The felony charge carried a possible prison term of up to five years. But in exchange for the guilty plea, prosecutors agreed not seek more than a 120-day jail term and 30 months' probation.
Defense attorney Joseph Laraia sought leniency. Murphy did not have a prior criminal history. His parents, including Woodridge Mayor Bill Murphy, testified that their son has never been in trouble before and would be a good candidate for probation. The defendant also apologized.
Though he is no longer practicing law, prosecutors said they plan to send a letter and certified copy of the conviction to the Illinois Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission.
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The public hysteria over the issue of sex offenders is starting to get to me. Is it just me, or are things getting out of hand? An over-zealous warpath perhaps? It takes one only a few moments of searching to discover a wide range of news clips on new restrictions and regulations. Take this, and this, and this.
And here's something new: Ohio is pushing for bright neon green license plates to accompany their offenders. It kind of makes me wonder why we don't go to the mat and demand all offenders wear neon orange shirts and drive pink cars. Or even better, let's brand them -- a giant scarlet "S" burned into their forehead. All in the name of public safety, right?
Whoa. Let's stop a minute. While I would be the first to demand justice for the heinous crimes of many sex offenders, there comes a point where things get out of hand. These criminals have faces -- they are someone's son, father, husband, brother, etc. And they are citizens with certain rights. Where do the offender's families fall in this mess? This interesting article about offenders' wives offers an interesting perspective to that picture. Shouldn't they have a voice, too?
I don't mean to downplay the crime of sexual offense, but let's step back and ponder what better ways this type of crime could be handled.
Perhaps what concerns me the most are the untold stories of sex offenders who really aren't offenders at all. At least not the dangerous pedophiles that we are afraid of. This article paints one particular instance. However, the story which sticks the most in my mind isn't on the Internet.
I received a phone call a few weeks ago from a frantic mother that nearly broke my heart. Her 10-year-old son had been been playing with a friend of his, when the two boys, both the same age, became curious and began fondling one another. The friend later told his mother what they had been doing, and the mother filed charges against the other 10-year-old boy. Long story short, this mother's child had been labeled a sex offender due to the nature of the complaint. 10 YEARS OLD! He now bore a label he would carry for the rest of his life. In tears his mother pleaded with me over what they could do, partially because with her son's new label, their whole family, by law, would be forced to move since they were within 2000 feet of a school.
It begs the question: what should we do? We can't keep slapping both dangerous and non-threatening individuals alike with expansive dos and don'ts. Society needs to stop running away screaming and start stepping up to the plate to find methods that work, protecting both society at large and the branded offender. Where's the happy medium?
(For more information about sex offenders in society and the work of criminal justice reform, click here, or here.)
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"Paranoia," University of Maryland Professor C. Fred Alford, has said, "is the will to meaning." In the U.S. of late, paranoia has become the will to zoning. Pick a vice—guns, drugs, smokes, fast food—and you will find zoners pushing it to the fringes of any place children may congregate, mapping large and often redundant circles with schools, parks, and playgrounds at their whitewashed centers. The urge to zone has long been confined to things people do, its target activities thought best confined to the fringes of a decent society. But the increasing popularity of criminal registries has spawned a trend of zoning out people themselves.
Sex offenders are the ultimate fish-in-a-barrel political target. Absent any apparent upswing in crime, pervert bashing seems to be in vogue. Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco has signed 14 anti-sex offender bills this month. (''Is there anything left we can do to sex offenders with a few days left in the session?'' a state rep joked to reporters.) In Virginia, a new law requires every college and university to send applicants' personal information to state police, where it will be checked against sex offender registries. Maryland Governor Robert Ehrlich is campaigning on a new sex offender hotline. Indiana, Colorado, and South Dakota have new laws, to name just a very few among the many states on the anti-offender high this summer.
For the moment, boilerplate sex offender legislation includes residency zoning, laws that typically require registered offenders not live within 1,000, 2,000, or 2,500 feet of day care centers, schools, bus stops, or other randomly chosen but suitably Mayberry-evoking public gathering places. To the extent that there is a theory at work here, it appears to be that men and women who have committed sex crimes will re-offend if permitted to spend their nights within 2,000 feet of public places where children gather during the day.
It would take an impressive zone indeed to actually separate children from sex offenders—the kind of zone that keeps out the parents, grandparents, priests, friends, and acquaintances who commit (by conservative estimates) 80 to 90 percent of those crimes. Zoning schemes, according to Sarah Tontochi at the Atlanta-based Center for Human Rights, are based on the "stranger danger myth," which Tontochi feels actively does harm by underemphasizing the very real danger of abuse-by-acquaintance.
In any case, the restrictions are likely to destroy the integrity of existing registries. Reasonable people can disagree about whether marking public personal information on ex-cons is a good idea, but zones make the costs of registering stratospheric as compared to the cost of not registering at all. As law enforcement officials in Iowa, the first state to impose residency restrictions, have come to realize, the requirements send offenders underground.
Couple the enormously elastic definition of sex offender, which tends to swallow the inane and victimless along with the truly heinous, with the blunt tool of residency zoning, and you're bound to hurt a lot of people whose crimes are hardly worthy of the name. One such case is Wendy Whitaker, who performed oral sex on a 15 year old boy 10 years ago, when she was 17. Whitaker owns a home near a church daycare center in Georgia; police forced her to leave that home last year. She then moved in with her brother, whose niece will go to school next fall. Since a school bus will pick up her niece from the house, Whitaker will again be in violation of the law if a new bus stop zoning law passes. According to the Southern Center for Human Rights, which is fighting the Georgia legislation, thousands of people will be forced to move if the law takes effect. Twenty-five of those are in nursing homes.
New public places emerge all the time, and zoning laws leave it to the highly sexed psychic powers of offenders to choose a home where authorities will not plop a public park, school, or day care center. Entire towns are easily covered, forcing offenders to move locales. But once one town adopts an ordinance, pushing sex offenders to neighboring towns, the tendency is for those towns to do so as well, provoking an arms race of circle drawing as offenders bounce from city to city. It is exile by attrition.
As with flag burning, the appeal of such legislation flows from politician to populace, its highest purpose being to smoke out politicians who oppose it. The problem with zoning proposals is that, unlike recent Republican values grandstanding in D.C., they tend to pass.
In a larger sense, recent national debates about redistricting should give the non-registered pause. It is possible to collect vast amounts of personal information about residents of any locality, to aggregate and act upon any number of data sets voters unknowingly provide. The high art of gerrymandering reminds us that it's not just sex offenders who are living highly mapped lives; let he who is without vice build the first zone. If the country really is suffering a bout of paranoia over hypothetical strangers, the sentiment would be better directed at politicking neighbors.
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Could my son be accused of sexual harassment? He's a good boy. He likes watching "Thomas the Tank Engine" on television and playing "Simon Says." Like many 3-year-olds, he's very affectionate. Unfortunately, hugging his teacher may get him suspended from nursery school.
I doubt that it will happen to my son. But the frightening fact is that it could. I recently learned that children nationwide, some of preschool age, have been suspended from school or taken to jail after being accused of sexual harassment. In their zeal to avoid lawsuits, educators seem to be ignoring important information, such as whether the accused child intended to commit a crime or even knows how to pronounce the word "harassment."
Sex education tends to be controversial, partly because parents have such varying and often strongly held beliefs about how, when and even if the topic should be introduced to their children. But if schools have the authority to brand a 3-year-old a sex offender, they also have the responsibility to provide parents with clear guidelines about appropriate physical conduct.
It's great that we are more aware than ever about sexual harassment in schools. But it is a terrible mistake to permanently label children who are barely out of diapers.
Consider these egregious examples: In December 2006, a 4-year-old boy in Waco, Tex., was punished with an in-school suspension after a female aide accused him of sexual harassment. According to a television station there, the child had hugged the woman while getting on the bus, and she later complained to administrators at La Vega Primary School that the child had put his face in her chest. School officials later agreed to remove sexual references but refused to expunge the "inappropriate physical contact" charge from the boy's school record.
In my home state of Maryland, state data show that during the 2005-06 school year, 28 kindergartners were suspended for sex offenses, including 15 for sexual harassment.
Last December, a kindergartner was accused of sexual harassment after he pinched a classmate's bottom at Lincolnshire Elementary School in Hagerstown, according to the local paper, the Herald-Mail. The charge will remain on his record until he enters middle school. "It's important to understand a child may not realize that what he or she is doing may be considered sexual harassment, but if it fits under the definition, then it is, under the state's guidelines," school spokeswoman Carol Mowen told the Herald-Mail. "If someone has been told this person does not want this type of touching, it doesn't matter if it's at work or at school, that's sexual harassment."
In fact, the Maryland Department of Education defines sexual harassment as "unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and/or other inappropriate verbal, written or physical conduct of a sexual nature directed toward others." I am alarmed that Mowen's statement appears to imply that schools will find a child guilty of sexual misconduct even if the child doesn't understand the implications of his or her actions.
Money may be at the root of these school suspensions. A 1992 Supreme Court ruling set the stage for school districts' having to pay damages in sexual harassment cases. In Franklin v. Gwinnett County Public Schools, a high school student, Christine Franklin, was sexually harassed by her male teacher.
The court held that sexual harassment was a form of discrimination prohibited under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Since Franklin proved that the school failed to stop the harassment, she was able to sue the school district for monetary damages -- something previously impossible for victors in Title IX suits.
Seven years later, in Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education, the high court extended the liability of Title IX to include "student-on-student" harassment. In 1999, LaShonda Davis, a fifth-grade student, complained to her mother and teacher that a male student had repeatedly made vulgar comments to her and tried to touch her private parts. The school's principal was also made aware of the alleged sexual harassment, but the boy was never disciplined and his behavior worsened. The court ruled that the school's "deliberate indifference" to "known acts of harassment" was itself misconduct under Title IX, and Davis was allowed to sue for monetary damages.
I doubt that the Supreme Court imagined that its decisions in Franklin and Davis would be used to criminalize the behavior of preschoolers. In our legal system, children are not treated as miniature adults. Juvenile courts were founded 100 years ago because children were considered less accountable for their actions than adults -- and therefore less culpable.
Schools, however, now appear to be holding even young children to adult standards of responsibility and liability. To me, some cases seem clear-cut. If an 11-year-old boy touches a 4-year-old girl's genitals and asks her to perform a sex act, his intent is apparent. But the motivations of two 4-year-olds caught "playing doctor" are less clear; it's probably natural curiosity, not abuse.
The situation gets even more muddy when adolescents are involved and the alleged victim is part of the horseplay. Last February, two 13-year-old boys in McMinnville, Ore., were arrested, put in handcuffs and placed in juvenile detention for five days for allegedly slapping several girls' backsides, according to news reports. The boys were charged with several counts of felony sexual abuse and faced up to 10 years in prison and the prospect of having to register as sex offenders upon release.
In August, several of the girls who initially filed the complaint asked a judge to dismiss the charges, which he did. The boys said the butt-slapping was a game inspired by the movie "Jackass." Like so many activities that adolescents engage in, the slapping was idiotic but not criminal.
Sexual harassment is serious business, and educators should not shirk their duty to ensure that schools are safe environments. But each school district should develop a clear, widely publicized policy that explains what sexual harassment is, gives examples of unacceptable conduct and clearly describes how discipline will be administered.
I have not received instructions of any kind -- not a manual, pamphlet or flier -- from my son's school regarding sexual harassment. Neither have my friends with kids, except in the vaguest terms. Given the long-term ramifications of accusing a child of a sex offense, schools have a duty to warn students and parents about the behavior that they deem inappropriate or unlawful, rather than simply placing a scarlet letter on a kid's forehead after the action has occurred.
Like millions of other parents, my husband and I are doing our best to teach our preschooler to respect others. But if holding a classmate's hand is out of bounds, his school needs to let us know.
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US Supreme Court takes up the case of a man convicted of trying to distribute make-believe porn.
Washington - Congress has long been concerned about the use of the Internet as an anonymous medium for the sale or exchange of child pornography.
In response, law-enforcement officials have maintained an aggressive posture through undercover operations to shut down a thriving illicit market that victimizes children.
But emerging technology is presenting new challenges to these enforcement efforts, particularly with the creation of "virtual" child pornography, images generated by computer.
On Tuesday, the US Supreme Court takes up a case that examines whether a 2003 federal law aimed at addressing the virtual child-pornography problem casts too wide a net that might also infringe constitutionally protected speech.
At issue in US v. Michael Williams is whether an individual can be arrested and sent to prison for a mandatory five to 20 years for attempting to arrange a swap of photographs that are believed to be illegal child pornography.
Under a 2003 child-pornography law, Congress empowered federal agents to arrest anyone for advertising, promoting, presenting, distributing, or soliciting material in a manner that is "intended to cause another to believe" that the material is illegal child pornography. The law applies even if the underlying material isn't actually child pornography.
US Solicitor General Paul Clement says the law, a section of the Protect Act, is a carefully calibrated effort by Congress to safeguard children from sexual exploitation by targeting those who would traffic in child pornography.
Critics say the law is a vague and overbroad regulation of free speech that threatens to establish the federal government as a kind of thought police. They say the government should punish illegal conduct, not controversial – or even repulsive – thoughts and fantasies. In addition, they say the law could chill artistic, literary, scientific, and other forms of protected speech.
"How are you as a promoter or as a describer supposed to know what is likely to make another person 'believe?' " asks John Feldmeier, a political science professor at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio., who helped file a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the Free Speech Coalition, a trade association for the adult-entertainment industry.
The issue arises in the case of Michael Williams of Key Largo, Fla., who was arrested in May 2004 after an encounter with an undercover agent in an adult chat room on the Internet.
Mr. Williams logged into the chat room and posted a message that he had "good" photographs of his 2-year-old daughter that he wished to swap for similar photos. The undercover agent responded and engaged Williams in a private Web chat. The agent identified himself as a 30-year-old mother with a 10-year-old daughter.
Williams and the agent swapped photos. The children depicted in the photos were clothed and were not engaged in sexually explicit activities.
According to court documents, Williams tried to get the agent to provide a more sexually explicit photograph. When it did not arrive, Williams posted a warning message in the chat room that the undercover agent was a cop. The undercover agent responded in a chat-room message accusing Williams of being a cop.
In response to the accusation that he was an undercover cop, Williams posted a hyperlink to seven sexually explicit photographs of children from ages 5 to 15.
Four days later, federal agents executed a search warrant for Williams's trailer in Key Largo. They discovered 22 computer images of children engaged in various forms of sexual activity. They also discovered that Williams lived alone and did not have a 2-year-old daughter.
Williams was charged with possession of child pornography. But federal prosecutors did not stop there. They also charged him with violating the federal child-pornography pandering law for his Internet encounter with the agent.
Williams agreed to plead guilty to both charges, but reserved the right to appeal the pandering conviction. His lawyers say he shouldn't be held criminally liable for false claims expressed in an adult chat room.
The 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta agreed with Williams and reversed the pandering conviction.
In appealing to the Supreme Court, the Bush administration argues that the law is aimed at the kind of pandering that sustains the illegal trade in child pornography – which in turn poses a threat to the well-being of children.
Part of the reason Congress passed the pandering statute was to give federal authorities the ability to prosecute individuals selling or trading computer-generated child pornography.
In 2002, the Supreme Court struck down an attempt by Congress to extend a ban on child pornography to include computer-generated child pornography. The ruling opened the door to distribution of virtual child porn. It also created a potential defense for individuals arrested for possessing actual child pornography. They could claim that the children depicted weren't real children.
Even if they were real, the virtual pornography claim would complicate any prosecution by forcing the government to prove the children in any photos were real.
Congress responded by enacting the 2003 law allowing federal agents to arrest someone for presenting or soliciting virtual child pornography if the would-be recipient believes it is child pornography involving real children.
In the Williams case, it enabled the government to prosecute Williams for trying to distribute child porn that never existed involving a 2-year-old girl who also doesn't exist.
Lawyers for Williams say the law's reliance on "beliefs" gives too much discretion to investigating agents. "The speaker's criminality does not depend upon his or her intent, but rather on what the speaker's audience believes the speaker is talking about, even if that belief is deluded," says Williams's attorney Richard Diaz of Coral Gables, Fla., in his brief to the court.
"It enters into an area that should be 100 percent off-limits to any form of government regulation," Professor Feldmeier says. "Government should not be regulating the mind."
Government lawyers have a different perspective. "The statute does not punish mere 'thoughts,' but applies only when an objectively reasonable person would conclude from the context that the speaker is offering or seeking real child pornography," Solicitor General Clement writes in his brief.
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Half of state's underage teens in adult prisons sent by Harris County
Since state and local authorities declared war on juvenile crime in the 1990s, Harris County courts consistently have prosecuted more underage teens as adults than four other major Texas counties combined.
As a result, Harris County accounts for half of all underage teens in the state's adult prisons, despite youths here accounting for just 15 percent of all juvenile crime in Texas, according to a review of state and local statistics.
Judges and prosecutors expect the number of teens in prison will continue to increase. The recent sex and abuse scandals within the Texas Youth Commission prompted legislators to require offenders to be released at 19 rather than 21 or be sent to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
"The irony is that the Legislature's intent was to keep more kids out of institutions" by overhauling TYC, said Judge Michael Schneider of the 315th District Court. "It may cause more kids at younger ages to end up in the adult system."
Prosecutors may seek more adult certifications of juvenile sex offenders because of the lowered age cap on TYC stays.
"If a sex offender enters TYC at 16 or 17, that's only about two or three years," said Assistant District Attorney Bill Hawkins. "That's not enough time to rehabilitate them."
Texas permits courts to certify juveniles as young as 15 to be tried as adults for murder and other violent crimes.
For the past decade, Harris County has prosecuted more juveniles as adults than Bexar, Dallas, Tarrant and Travis counties combined.
In 1996, Harris County certified 170 juveniles amid a public crackdown on violent youth crime. That number steadily dropped to roughly 55 a year between 2003 and 2005.
But certifications jumped to 90 last year, when the county saw several violent cases involving teens, including Ashley Benton, then 16, who was certified to stand trial as an adult in the stabbing death of 15-year-old Gabriel Granillo. Her case ended in a mistrial.
The courts have maintained a similar pace this year with 67 adult certifications as of September. A judge has not yet decided whether Bobby Davis, the 15-year-old from Baytown who authorities say drove a stolen Jeep into a train, killing his brother and three friends in June, will stand trial as an adult.
Although the Benton and Davis cases have heightened awareness of juvenile violence, prosecutors say homicides are down. Statistics show most of the youth cases sent to adult courts involve crimes with guns, typically robberies.
Showing any mercy?
Still, some observers say Harris County's approach to juvenile crime is harsher than elsewhere in the state.
"Once they get in this system, it's a meat grinder," said W. Michael Coulson, one of about 25 court-appointed attorneys in the juvenile courts. "For the most part, they're on a rocket sled headed for TDCJ, unless something really big steps in the way."
In January, the 263rd District Court sentenced Courtney Tolliver, 16, to 25 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon in a 2006 mugging.
"The (adult court) judge really had no mercy," said Dennis W. Richards, Tolliver's defense attorney. "They shouldn't have certified him in the first place. He had so many mental issues and problems at home."
Harris County judges typically approve 90 percent of certification petitions filed by prosecutors. And once prosecutors have filed a petition, it is nearly impossible to challenge certification, Coulson and others said.
"The process has become somewhat perfunctory," said Marc D. Isenberg, a juvenile defense attorney.
In most cases, attorneys have 24 hours to review documents before a certification hearing. Defendants cannot appeal certifications until after a case has been closed in adult court.
Most juvenile offenders facing certification are poor, so their court-appointed attorneys, who struggle with heavy caseloads, may not have the time or resources to challenge prosecutors.
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A local Christian group in Portland, Maine, is claiming that a controversial decision to distribute birth control pills to students as young as 11 at a local middle school points to possible criminal activity.
On October 17, the Portland School Committee voted 7-2 to begin distributing prescription birth control pills and patches to students in grades 6 through 8 at King Middle School.
Parents must give permission for their children to receive health services from the school clinic but will not be notified if their child requests and receives prescription birth control services there. Students in grades 6 through 8 are generally 11 to 13 years old.
The Christian Civil League of Maine called on Maine Attorney General G. Steven Rowe to investigate "possible criminal activity" at King Middle School. The group pointed to a Maine law that makes sexual intercourse between two persons legal only if both partners are at least 14 and the age difference is no more than five years.
Michael Heath, executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine, told Cybercast News Service the school's assertion that students had come to the health center and admitted to engaging in sexual activity suggested the commission of a crime.
"What we are seeking is an investigation because the law is so clear, and there's an admission here by officials of illegal activity," Heath said.
The Associated Press reports that Amanda Rowe, the head nurse for Portland public schools, said five students who used the health clinic at King Middle School last year reported having sexual intercourse.
According to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 13 percent of middle-school students in Maine admitted to having sex in 2005. King Middle School has since reported that the five sexually active students were all either 14 or 15 years old.
But Heath said that the ages of students who admitted to having sex in previous years were still unknown.
"If any of them are under 14 years of age, then they're committing a crime under our law," he said.
On Friday, Cumberland County District Attorney Stephanie Anderson questioned the practices of the King Middle School health center and demanded that health-care providers start reporting cases of underage sex to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.
"The health-care provider has no discretion in the matter. It's up to the district attorney to decide," she said, according to the Portland Press Herald.
"It's clear that it's going on all the time," she added. "Either the law is going to be enforced or it needs to be changed. I don't think a law should be routinely violated."
Douglas Gardner, director of Portland's Department of Health and Human Services, told the Associated Press that in the past, Portland's school-based clinics have had no official policy about reporting sexual activity by children under 14. "Moving forward, we will report to the letter of the law," he said.
The two members of the Portland School Committee who dissented from the new birth-control policy, John Coyne and Benjamin Meiklejohn, are reportedly crafting alternative proposals that would prohibit giving birth control to students under 14.
Heath said that the school board seemed reluctant to deal with the issue.
"The members seem to be digging their heels in," he said. "There doesn't seem to be a real desire to accommodate change."
Neither King Middle School nor the Maine Department of Health and Human Services immediately returned phone calls.
One voice absent from the debate over King's birth control policy is that of Attorney General Rowe, who has yet to respond to the controversy or to the legal issues raised by the Christian Civic League.
He is also married to Amanda Rowe, the head nurse for Portland public schools, who is at the center of the controversy.
"It is beyond comprehension that [the attorney general] does not know about this criminal sexual activity in the Portland Middle Schools," said Mike Hein, administrator for the Christian Civic League.
Rowe has served as attorney general since 2001 and previously served a term as speaker of the House in Maine's Democrat-controlled state legislature.
Maine's Office of the Attorney General told Cybercast News Service that they had no comment on the current controversy and that Rowe was not presently taking phone calls.
While on-line computer exploration opens a world of possibilities for children, expanding their horizons and exposing them to different cultures and ways of life, they can be exposed to dangers as they hit the road exploring the information highway. There are individuals who attempt to sexually exploit children through the use of on-line services and the Internet. Some of these individuals gradually seduce their targets through the use of attention, affection, kindness, and even gifts. These individuals are often willing to devote considerable amounts of time, money, and energy in this process. They listen to and empathize with the problems of children. They will be aware of the latest music, hobbies, and interests of children. These individuals attempt to gradually lower children's inhibitions by slowly introducing sexual context and content into their conversations.
There are other individuals, however, who immediately engage in sexually explicit conversation with children. Some offenders primarily collect and trade child-pornographic images, while others seek face-to-face meetings with children via on-line contacts. It is important for parents to understand that children can be indirectly victimized through conversation, i.e. "chat," as well as the transfer of sexually explicit information and material. Computer-sex offenders may also be evaluating children they come in contact with on-line for future face-to-face contact and direct victimization. Parents and children should remember that a computer-sex offender can be any age or sex the person does not have to fit the caricature of a dirty, unkempt, older man wearing a raincoat to be someone who could harm a child.
Children, especially adolescents, are sometimes interested in and curious about sexuality and sexually explicit material. They may be moving away from the total control of parents and seeking to establish new relationships outside their family. Because they may be curious, children/adolescents sometimes use their on-line access to actively seek out such materials and individuals. Sex offenders targeting children will use and exploit these characteristics and needs. Some adolescent children may also be attracted to and lured by on-line offenders closer to their age who, although not technically child molesters, may be dangerous. Nevertheless, they have been seduced and manipulated by a clever offender and do not fully understand or recognize the potential danger of these contacts.
This guide was prepared from actual investigations involving child victims, as well as investigations where law enforcement officers posed as children. Further information on protecting your child on-line may be found in the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's Child Safety on the Information Highway and Teen Safety on the Information Highway pamphlets.
What Are Signs That Your Child Might Be At Risk On-line?
Your child spends large amounts of time on-line, especially at night.
Most children that fall victim to computer-sex offenders spend large amounts of time on-line, particularly in chat rooms. They may go on-line after dinner and on the weekends. They may be latchkey kids whose parents have told them to stay at home after school. They go on-line to chat with friends, make new friends, pass time, and sometimes look for sexually explicit information. While much of the knowledge and experience gained may be valuable, parents should consider monitoring the amount of time spent on-line.
Children on-line are at the greatest risk during the evening hours. While offenders are on-line around the clock, most work during the day and spend their evenings on-line trying to locate and lure children or seeking pornography.
You find pornography on your child's computer.
Pornography is often used in the sexual victimization of children. Sex offenders often supply their potential victims with pornography as a means of opening sexual discussions and for seduction. Child pornography may be used to show the child victim that sex between children and adults is "normal." Parents should be conscious of the fact that a child may hide the pornographic files on diskettes from them. This may be especially true if the computer is used by other family members.
Your child receives phone calls from men you don't know or is making calls, sometimes long distance, to numbers you don't recognize.
While talking to a child victim on-line is a thrill for a computer-sex offender, it can be very cumbersome. Most want to talk to the children on the telephone. They often engage in "phone sex" with the children and often seek to set up an actual meeting for real sex.
While a child may be hesitant to give out his/her home phone number, the computer-sex offenders will give out theirs. With Caller ID, they can readily find out the child's phone number. Some computer-sex offenders have even obtained toll-free 800 numbers, so that their potential victims can call them without their parents finding out. Others will tell the child to call collect. Both of these methods result in the computer-sex offender being able to find out the child's phone number.
Your child receives mail, gifts, or packages from someone you don't know.
As part of the seduction process, it is common for offenders to send letters, photographs, and all manner of gifts to their potential victims. Computer-sex offenders have even sent plane tickets in order for the child to travel across the country to meet them.
Your child turns the computer monitor off or quickly changes the screen on the monitor when you come into the room.
A child looking at pornographic images or having sexually explicit conversations does not want you to see it on the screen.
Your child becomes withdrawn from the family.
Computer-sex offenders will work very hard at driving a wedge between a child and their family or at exploiting their relationship. They will accentuate any minor problems at home that the child might have. Children may also become withdrawn after sexual victimization.
Your child is using an on-line account belonging to someone else.
Even if you don't subscribe to an on-line service or Internet service, your child may meet an offender while on-line at a friend's house or the library. Most computers come preloaded with on-line and/or Internet software. Computer-sex offenders will sometimes provide potential victims with a computer account for communications with them.
What Should You Do If You Suspect Your Child Is Communicating With A Sexual Predator On-line?
- Consider talking openly with your child about your suspicions. Tell them about the dangers of computer-sex offenders.
- Review what is on your child's computer. If you don't know how, ask a friend, coworker, relative, or other knowledgeable person. Pornography or any kind of sexual communication can be a warning sign.
- Use the Caller ID service to determine who is calling your child. Most telephone companies that offer Caller ID also offer a service that allows you to block your number from appearing on someone else's Caller ID. Telephone companies also offer an additional service feature that rejects incoming calls that you block. This rejection feature prevents computer-sex offenders or anyone else from calling your home anonymously.
- Devices can be purchased that show telephone numbers that have been dialed from your home phone. Additionally, the last number called from your home phone can be retrieved provided that the telephone is equipped with a redial feature. You will also need a telephone pager to complete this retrieval.
- This is done using a numeric-display pager and another phone that is on the same line as the first phone with the redial feature. Using the two phones and the pager, a call is placed from the second phone to the pager. When the paging terminal beeps for you to enter a telephone number, you press the redial button on the first (or suspect) phone. The last number called from that phone will then be displayed on the pager.
- Monitor your child's access to all types of live electronic communications (i.e., chat rooms, instant messages, Internet Relay Chat, etc.), and monitor your child's e-mail. Computer-sex offenders almost always meet potential victims via chat rooms. After meeting a child on-line, they will continue to communicate electronically often via e-mail.
Should any of the following situations arise in your household, via the Internet or on-line service, you should immediately contact your local or state law enforcement agency, the FBI, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children:
- Your child or anyone in the household has received child pornography;
- Your child has been sexually solicited by someone who knows that your child is under 18 years of age;
- Your child has received sexually explicit images from someone that knows your child is under the age of 18.
If one of these scenarios occurs, keep the computer turned off in order to preserve any evidence for future law enforcement use. Unless directed to do so by the law enforcement agency, you should not attempt to copy any of the images and/or text found on the computer.
What Can You Do To Minimize The Chances Of An On-line Exploiter Victimizing Your Child?
- Communicate, and talk to your child about sexual victimization and potential on-line danger.
- Spend time with your children on-line. Have them teach you about their favorite on-line destinations.
- Keep the computer in a common room in the house, not in your child's bedroom. It is much more difficult for a computer-sex offender to communicate with a child when the computer screen is visible to a parent or another member of the household.
- Utilize parental controls provided by your service provider and/or blocking software. While electronic chat can be a great place for children to make new friends and discuss various topics of interest, it is also prowled by computer-sex offenders. Use of chat rooms, in particular, should be heavily monitored. While parents should utilize these mechanisms, they should not totally rely on them.
- Always maintain access to your child's on-line account and randomly check his/her e-mail. Be aware that your child could be contacted through the U.S. Mail. Be up front with your child about your access and reasons why.
- Teach your child the responsible use of the resources on-line. There is much more to the on-line experience than chat rooms.
- Find out what computer safeguards are utilized by your child's school, the public library, and at the homes of your child's friends. These are all places, outside your normal supervision, where your child could encounter an on-line predator.
- Understand, even if your child was a willing participant in any form of sexual exploitation, that he/she is not at fault and is the victim. The offender always bears the complete responsibility for his or her actions.
- Instruct your children:
- to never arrange a face-to-face meeting with someone they met on- line;
- to never upload (post) pictures of themselves onto the Internet or on-line service to people they do not personally know;
- to never give out identifying information such as their name, home address, school name, or telephone number;
- to never download pictures from an unknown source, as there is a good chance there could be sexually explicit images;
- to never respond to messages or bulletin board postings that are suggestive, obscene, belligerent, or harassing;
- that whatever they are told on-line may or may not be true.
Frequently Asked Questions:
My child has received an e-mail advertising for a pornographic website, what should I do?
Generally, advertising for an adult, pornographic website that is sent to an e-mail address does not violate federal law or the current laws of most states. In some states it may be a violation of law if the sender knows the recipient is under the age of 18. Such advertising can be reported to your service provider and, if known, the service provider of the originator. It can also be reported to your state and federal legislators, so they can be made aware of the extent of the problem.
Is any service safer than the others?
Sex offenders have contacted children via most of the major on-line services and the Internet. The most important factors in keeping your child safe on-line are the utilization of appropriate blocking software and/or parental controls, along with open, honest discussions with your child, monitoring his/her on-line activity, and following the tips in this pamphlet.
Should I just forbid my child from going on-line?
There are dangers in every part of our society. By educating your children to these dangers and taking appropriate steps to protect them, they can benefit from the wealth of information now available on-line.
Internet - An immense, global network that connects computers via telephone lines and/or fiber networks to storehouses of electronic information. With only a computer, a modem, a telephone line and a service provider, people from all over the world can communicate and share information with little more than a few keystrokes.
Bulletin Board Systems (BBSs) - Electronic networks of computers that are connected by a central computer setup and operated by a system administrator or operator and are distinguishable from the Internet by their "dial-up" accessibility. BBS users link their individual computers to the central BBS computer by a modem which allows them to post messages, read messages left by others, trade information, or hold direct conversations. Access to a BBS can, and often is, privileged and limited to those users who have access privileges granted by the systems operator.
Commercial On-line Service (COS) - Examples of COSs are America Online, Prodigy, CompuServe and Microsoft Network, which provide access to their service for a fee. COSs generally offer limited access to the Internet as part of their total service package.
Internet Service Provider (ISP) - Examples of ISPs are Erols, Concentric and Netcom. These services offer direct, full access to the Internet at a flat, monthly rate and often provide electronic-mail service for their customers. ISPs often provide space on their servers for their customers to maintain World Wide Web (WWW) sites. Not all ISPs are commercial enterprises. Educational, governmental and nonprofit organizations also provide Internet access to their members.
Public Chat Rooms - Created, maintained, listed and monitored by the COS and other public domain systems such as Internet Relay Chat. A number of customers can be in the public chat rooms at any given time, which are monitored for illegal activity and even appropriate language by systems operators (SYSOP). Some public chat rooms are monitored more frequently than others, depending on the COS and the type of chat room. Violators can be reported to the administrators of the system (at America On-line they are referred to as terms of service [TOS]) which can revoke user privileges. The public chat rooms usually cover a broad range of topics such as entertainment, sports, game rooms, children only, etc.
Electronic Mail (E-Mail) - A function of BBSs, COSs and ISPs which provides for the transmission of messages and files between computers over a communications network similar to mailing a letter via the postal service. E-mail is stored on a server, where it will remain until the addressee retrieves it. Anonymity can be maintained by the sender by predetermining what the receiver will see as the "from" address. Another way to conceal one's identity is to use an "anonymous remailer," which is a service that allows the user to send an e-mail message repackaged under the remailer's own header, stripping off the originator's name completely.
Chat - Real-time text conversation between users in a chat room with no expectation of privacy. All chat conversation is accessible by all individuals in the chat room while the conversation is taking place.
Instant Messages - Private, real-time text conversation between two users in a chat room.
Internet Relay Chat (IRC) - Real-time text conversation similar to public and/or private chat rooms on COS.
Usenet (Newsgroups) - Like a giant, cork bulletin board where users post messages and information. Each posting is like an open letter and is capable of having attachments, such as graphic image files (GIFs). Anyone accessing the newsgroup can read the postings, take copies of posted items, or post responses. Each newsgroup can hold thousands of postings. Currently, there are over 29,000 public newsgroups and that number is growing daily. Newsgroups are both public and/or private. There is no listing of private newsgroups. A user of private newsgroups has to be invited into the newsgroup and be provided with the newsgroup's address.
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Site advises kids not to give away their real name, full address
LONDON - Police launched a Web site on Tuesday to warn children as young as eight about the dangers of putting their personal details on social networking sites such as MySpace and Bebo.
The site — www.thinkuknow.co.uk/cybercafe — has an online cafe where children can learn about the dangers of revealing too much about themselves online.
It warns them not to give away their real name, full address and mobile phone number and to think twice before posting their pictures.
The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, a police agency set up to tackle child sex abuse, said it receives about 10 reports each month relating to children aged between eight and 11.
"We want children to use the Internet," said CEOP Chief Executive Jim Gamble, "but we want them to do it in a way that safeguards their time in the virtual world."
The new site advises children to avoid using a webcam when they talk to strangers online and not to arrange to meet people who contact them in cyberspace.
Children should block strangers who try to add them to their instant messaging contact list, CEOP said.
The site also gives tips on how to safely use mobile phones, chatrooms and email.
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The trial of a Blackford County sheriff's deputy accused of having sexual contact with a 15-year-old girl has been rescheduled for Dec. 11 in Blackford Circuit Court.
Brian L. Cansler, 49, is charged with two counts of sexual misconduct with a minor one, a class B felony carrying a standard 10-year prison term and the other a class C felony with a standard four-year sentence.
The police sergeant has been on paid leave since his arrest last December, which followed an Indiana State Police investigation.
He had been an unsuccessful candidate for sheriff in the May 2006 Republican primary.
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Reprieved from harsh 10-year prison sentence, he looks ahead, not back
Genarlow Wilson will leave the bitterness to others. For the moment, just being able to sleep in his own bed, get up in the middle of the night to raid the refrigerator and being able to be with his family is satisfaction enough.
“When I got the news I was ecstatic at just being able to finally walk out of the prison knowing that I was free and I had a new chance at life,” Wilson told TODAY co-host Meredith Vieira on Monday.
It was just three days ago, after two years of public outcry over the 10-year sentence he was serving for having consensual oral sex at a party when he was a teen, that he was freed from prison by order of the Georgia Supreme Court.
Noting that Georgia law had been changed to make Wilson’s crime punishable by up to only a year in prison, the court called the 10-year sentence “extraordinarily harsh.” Wilson was suddenly a free man.
“It was an awesome feeling, just being able to hug my mother and my sister,” Wilson, now 21, told Vieira.
Dressed in a crisp white shirt and tie and speaking from his home in Powder Springs, Ga., with his mother, Vanessa, at his side, Wilson didn’t complain about losing two years of his life. Instead, Wilson said that he wants to help other kids who might be tempted to make the same dangerous decisions he made.
“This is a whole new beginning,” he had said on Sunday after attending church. “I have fresh breath, a new life. All I can do is start new today.”
With Vieira, he spoke mostly of the lessons he learned and his determination to help other kids learn from his mistake.
“I definitely got in a situation a boy, and I’m coming out a man,” Wilson told “I made very stupid decisions.”
He and his mother were both outwardly calm, as if they were discussing whether to plant hydrangeas or geraniums in the garden.
“We’re still kind of numb, and it’s still soaking in,” his mother said. “We haven’t really had time to let it set in. It also feels like he never left. I guess I was in a state of denial.”
But, she concluded, “It feels good.”
“It definitely taught me valuable lessons,” Wilson said of his experience. “It’s something I want to share. I plan to help educating teens on sex and teaching them the new laws. I feel I have a testimony to share with them. I want to just help them make better decisions.”
On New Year’s Eve, 2003, Wilson was 17, a top student in his high school and an outstanding athlete who was widely recruited by colleges, including Columbia University.
Wilson went to a party attended by a bunch of kids in a hotel room.
There was alcohol and drugs – and a video camera. A 17-year-old girl at the party who was taped having what appeared to be consensual sex claimed the next morning that she had been raped.
Police investigating the complaint found used condoms, signs of drinking and the video camera, which also contained footage of Wilson being offered and receiving oral sex from a 15-year-old girl.
Georgia has a so-called “Romeo and Juliet law,” which treats sex between minors differently than sex between an adult and a minor. But at the time, the law covered only sexual intercourse. Oral sex with a 15-year-old was still treated as a felony even though Wilson was a minor himself. It was punishable by a minimum 10-year prison sentence with no chance of parole.
With the video as evidence, Wilson was convicted in February 2005 of aggravated child molestation. The sentence was so harsh that some of the jurors who convicted him professed shock to reporters after the penalty was imposed.
The case sparked outrage and debate across the nation and the world.
Issue of race?
Because Wilson is African-American, many said that his race contributed to the way he was treated by the criminal justice system. The Rev. Jesse Jackson lobbied for Wilson’s release, as did the Rev. Al Sharpton.
Last year, the Georgia Legislature changed the law to reduce what Wilson did to a misdemeanor punishable by no more than a year in jail, but the law was not made retroactive. Those convicted before the change had to continue to serve their sentences.
But the Georgia Supreme Court ruled on Friday in a 4-3 decision that Wilson had been punished enough. Justice Leah Ward Sears, who was part of the majority who voted to release Wilson wrote: "Although society has a significant interest in protecting children from premature sexual activity, we must acknowledge that Wilson's crime does not rise to the level of culpability of adults who prey on children … For the law to punish Wilson as it would an adult, with the extraordinary harsh punishment of 10 years in prison without the possibility of probation or parole, appears to be grossly disproportionate to his crime."
The high court reduced his crime to a misdemeanor and his penalty to one year in jail with credit for the two years he’s already served. He will not have to register as a sex offender; he’s a free man.
“It definitely helped me mature,” he said of his experience. “I said I’m not bitter because I‘ve learned how to turn negative images to positive. I plan on doing a lot of the positive things. I want to help others, talk to a lot of youth, troubled teens, try to help them learn from my situation.”
He said he will work with the My5th.org, a non-profit organization established by his attorney, B.J. Bernstein to teach young people about their constitutional rights, including the Fifth Amendment protection against incriminating themselves.
Wilson made no excuses. “I don’t condone that type of behavior,” he said of what he did at that party nearly four years ago. “At the time, I was just trying to have fun. If you think about those things, if you know about the consequences that come along with them, you won’t do them – you’ll think twice.”
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THE sordid sex scandals surrounding Jeffrey Epstein are making waves in the Caribbean, where the billionaire owns a private 900-acre getaway and has deep financial ties to the governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Epstein - soon to cop a plea to soliciting sex from teen hookers at his Palm Beach estate - is being sued by a drug-addicted, transgender model who claims he/she was pressured into having sex with Epstein at the age of 16.
Sources say the former math teacher, who owns the lush, tropical island of Little St. James, off the coast of St. Thomas, regularly ferried boatloads of young women there.
Sources also say Epstein enjoys a warm relationship with USVI Gov. John P. deJongh Jr. "Epstein has donated as much as $1 million to the governor's election campaign," said our source. In addition, Epstein, who runs the charitable J. Epstein Virgin Islands Foundation, employs deJongh's wife, Cecile, as its director. He also pays for the education of the governor's children at the exclusive Antilles School on St. Thomas.
"There is concern that the deJonghs will now be associated with a sexual predator," our insider said.
Epstein's spokesman, Howard Rubenstein, told Page Six that Cecile DeJongh has worked for the foundation for nine years, making less than $125,000 annually. "There's no one better to know the needs of charities on the island than this woman," he told us, adding that all of Epstein's employees, not just the deJonghs, are given free tuition for their kids.
Rubenstein said deJongh has never been to Epstein's island, although he wouldn't comment on whether Epstein has imported platoons of young babes.
"Jeffrey is proud of what he gives to charity. He's really pleased to be able to able to help people on the island with his foundation," Rubenstein said.
DeJongh's flack didn't return our call, but the governor has told the St. John Tradewinds newspaper about his wife's position: "It's just a job; that's all. I think it's highly appropriate she continue there."