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Tennessee authorities have apprehended Robert Jason Burdick, the man they suspect of being the "Wooded Rapist," who raped 13 women. The method of apprehending him, however, may jeopardize their case against him. The 38 year-old Burdick has been charged with four rapes and two attempted rapes and is suspected of committing 13 rapes between 1994 and 2008. Most of those crimes were committed in homes that were near wooded areas, leading to its perpetrator being dubbed the "Wooded Rapist."
Burdick first became a suspect in these crimes on April 28th after police received a report of a masked man in a subdivision and an officer saw Burdick walking through the neighborhood and getting into a Jeep. The officer questioned Burdick, but he refused a search of his vehicle. Subsequently, officers, who were conducting 24-hour surveillance of Burdick, placed a GPS tracking device on his Burdick's Jeep even though they did not have a warrant.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
TN - Recalculating: Tennessee Police Placed GPS Device On Jeep Of Alleged "Wooded Rapist" Without A Warrant
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The current sex offender residence law has been partially overturned.
The law, enacted in 2006, barred convicted sex offenders from living within a thousand feet of a school, public park, or day care center.
But, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled last week that the law is unconstitutional when applied to offenders who purchased their homes before it went into effect.
- Following Georgia's lead I see. What about being unconstitutional when applying retroactive punishment to those who were convicted before the law came to be?
Jeff Shimkus, who works closely with the registry in Allen County, believes the state is likely to challenge the recent ruling before the supreme court.
"It would have a profound effect on the registry as it stands right now. It would be hard to update, we'd have to go through our database again and pick who it's going to apply to and who its not," says Detective Jeff Shimkus.
Shimkus says he's heard several complaints about the way the existing law is written from local offenders.
View the article here
Yeah, spread them all over the place so police have a harder time keeping track of them, makes no sense to me.
TAMPA - Hillsborough County Commissioners want to protect your children.
So, they plan to make the rules tougher for sex offenders and predators.
They want to add an "anti-clustering" prohibition.
That means they would limit the number of sex offenders and predators that can live in the same area.
So, mobile home parks or homes, rented specifically to these offenders, wouldn't be allowed.
Brian Blair (Contact) urged county attorneys to make the language in the ordinance as tough as possible.
"Personally, I want it so tough, they don't want to live here," Blair said.
- Once again, this statement PROVES these laws are about punishment and not "regulatory" measures!
But many worry that could just push offenders on the streets.
In Miami, five convicted sex offenders moved under a bridge. They couldn't find a place to live that didn't violate that area's new ordinance.
Commissioner Ken Hagan (Contact) said they need to be careful.
"What language we can have in there that protects our children, while at the same time, not making it impossible for them to find a place to live and essentially driving them underground," Hagan said.
Dr. Leo Cotter runs S.H.A.R.E., an outpatient sex offender treatment program.
He said if these offenders are on the street, they're unaccounted for.
He wants county leaders to move past being vindictive or angry and create a policy to manage these men and women.
"I think all of us have a fear of our family and friends being hurt by abusers. And it's easy to say 'not in my neighborhood.' But people need a place to live. And the community will be safer if we allow people to have stability in their life," Cotter said.
The Commission will hold a public hearing, but no date has been set.
View the article here
McCain wants credit for it? Why? So he can ride the backs of sex offenders to win the presidential seat?
Legislation passed without fanfare in the Senate Tuesday night would require convicted sex offenders to register their email addresses and IM screen names with a government-controlled database – but only if Senate Democrats can overcome objections from Democrats in the House, and only if they’re willing to take the risk that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) will get some of the credit for the law that would result.
The Senate version of the bill, known as the KIDS Act, is intended to make it difficult for sex offenders to join social networking Web sites like Facebook and MySpace. The act is just one of many Congress is considering as it takes aim at sex offenders.
- It's political grandstanding. If a predator wanted to join these websites, all they have to do is create some unknown email address, in a matter of minutes, then they are on their way...
Beyond the KIDS Act, there’s the Deleting Online Predators Act, the Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act, the Children's Listbroker Privacy Act, the Combating Child Exploitation Act and the Effective Child Pornography Prosecution Act.
- They have to create tons of bills so many people get credit for them for grandstanding purposes, instead of creating ONE BILL to handle all the issues.
And then there are the ones with the clever acronyms. The KIDS Act (Keeping the Internet Devoid of Sexual Predators Act) is joined by the SAFE Act (Securing Adolescents From Exploitation-Online Act) and the mother of them all, the PROTECT Our Children Act (Providing Resources, Officers, and Technology to Eradicate Cyber Threats to Our Children Act).
How the KIDS Act fares will say much about the prognosis for the rest of Congress’ sex-offender agenda.
The bill was introduced by Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), and it passed by unanimous consent Tuesday.
But civil libertarians say that the bill is too broad, that it could reach convicted offenders with little chance of recidivism, and that it could prevent them from accessing not just MySpace, Facebook and other sites frequented by young people but also news sites and others built around social-networking models.
“Everybody wants to keep kids safe,” says Michael Macleod-Ball, the ACLU’s chief legislative and policy counsel. But Macleod-Ball said that the bill’s policy goals have to be balanced against the rights of individuals, and that each offender’s situation should be evaluated on its own merits.
“If you’re going to affect somebody’s rights, there’s got to be a connection to some sort of legitimate public policy purpose, and there are some people that are within the realm of the Senate regimen who would fall outside of that,” he said, arguing that it “makes a little more sense if there is a specific determination that’s made by the court or by some probationary or parole process that finds an actual nexus between the restriction you trying to impose and the nature of the conviction.”
- Making sense is not what congress is all about...
Schumer downplays those concerns, saying that he hasn’t heard much opposition from the civil liberties community and that there are only “a couple people” in the House who oppose the registration requirement.
But among those are two House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), who chair the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security. Scott stripped the registration requirement out of the House version of the KIDS Act before it passed on a 417-to-0 vote in November, and Conyers said he supports Scott’s views.
“We’ll have to negotiate,” Conyers said of the Senate’s legislation.
Under the registration requirement approved by the Senate, social networking sites would have access to the government database of e-mail addresses and screen names and would be encouraged to ban those on it. It would be a violation of parole or probation to use different online identifiers.
- So what if the sex offender is off probation and/or parole? So from this statement above, they are going to ban sex offenders who are on the registry, but those off parole/probation can simply create a new email address and get back on. More crap that will not work!
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) supports the bill, as does MySpace, Facebook, Microsoft and the American Family Association. One catch for Democrats: So too, of course, does the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, who issued a press release Wednesday calling on the House to pass it as soon as possible.
View the article here
Finally someone with brains who is thinking!
RACINE — A year after 11th District Alderman Greg Helding proposed adopting an ordinance to restrict where sex offenders live, the City Council is putting it to rest.
Its decision is in line with Wisconsin legislative bill AB702 that was proposed last session and would prohibit subdivisions from placing restrictions on where sex offenders can live.
There are 251 registered sex offenders living in Racine, according to a Family Watchdog database. There are 235 registered offenders in Kenosha and 1,237 in Milwaukee, according to the database.
In May 2007 Helding proposed adopting the sex offender ordinance. It would have resembled an ordinance in Franklin that set up 2,000-foot buffer zones surrounding schools and other places children could be.
After Helding looked into a similar ordinance for Racine, he realized it was problematic because of the number of day care centers and schools in the city. He also learned that the ordinances rarely work, he said.
“It proved it would be a lot of work with very little results,” Helding said.
The council voted Tuesday to receive and file the communications about adopting a sex offender ordinance, which ends consideration for it, Helding said. The council could bring it back in the future by creating a new communication.
Earlier this year representatives from the Wisconsin Department of Corrections testified in favor of the state legislation that would prohibit subdivisions from restricting where sex offenders can live, said department spokesman John Dipko.
While the local ordinances are well intended they typically do not work, Dipko said.
“They undermine public safety by pushing sex offenders underground and creating a disproportionate concentration of sex offenders in certain areas,” Dipko said.
Rep. Donald Friske (Contact), R-Merrill, proposed the legislation in January 2008, but it did not clear the Legislature in its last session.
No statewide mandate currently limits where sex offenders can live, said Jennifer Arndt, a sex offender registration specialist for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections. But there are department guidelines that help determine what areas are safe for sex offenders on supervision to live in, Arndt said. Supervision can last from a couple years to more than, Arndt said. An offender is considered a registered sex offender for 15 years or a lifetime, depending on the crime.
The majority of the people on the sex offender database are not under supervision, Dipko said.
View the article here
Should news agencies smudge journalistic ethics for higher ratings? MSNBC does not seem to mind - that is precisely what it does on its now infamous series of investigative reports on pedophiles, “To Catch a Predator”.
As host Chris Hansen smugly grills men on Dateline MSNBC “To Catch a Predator” he may or may not know that these men are (in most cases) neurologically compromised and are cursed with obsessive intrusive thoughts, which lead to behavioral responses most in the public do not want to believe: uncontrollable compulsions.
In a recently televised report Hansen and his team, as they routinely do, catch a middle-aged male who had been chatting with a decoy from PervertedJustice.com. Hansen repeatedly asks questions like, “Why are you here? Why are you doing this? Don’t you know this is wrong?” The guilt-ridden man writhes in shame and struggles to provide the impossible – a rational reason or excuse. The answer – the man’s brain is diseased.
Certainly, pedophilia particularly in the Internet age is a problem. It needs to be dealt with by legislating and enforcing laws that call for humane, evidence-based solutions to protect society.
The men shown on Dateline NBC exhibit symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder - dysfunction in a human organ - the brain. Similarly, diabetes is caused by dysfunction in a human organ – the pancreas. In both cases the organ does not create or regulate the correct amount of a vital biochemical. In the case of OCD, the neurotransmitter serotonin has been implicated by research. In both cases, medication has the capacity to regulate the irregular biochemical activity. If someone with diabetes does not take medications such as insulin they become ill and may die. If someone with OCD does not take their medications they can not control their impulsive thinking which leads to compulsive behavior.
OCD is no different in its basic etiology – it is hereditary and biological in nature, and society’s best chance at reducing pedophilia is to understand and accept its biological nature and design and implement interventions based upon evidence based medical psychiatric research.
The individuals’ lack of control is shown by MSNBC as they highlight several repeat offenders who admit to having seen “To Catch A Predator”, were wary of entering a trap, but came in anyway. Sane people don’t take those kinds of risks – people with diseased brains do.
This past June, NBC’s former Dateline Producer Marsha Bartel sued NBC for one million dollars for allegedly firing her for voicing ethical concerns about how the men seen on the show are solicited for entertainment. She alleges that NBC pays Perverted Justice to run what she calls “trolling operations” to lure men to homes to have sex with minors by using actors in internet chat rooms. She alleges that, “NBC unethically provides law enforcement with video equipment and video tapes.”
These men need help. In some instances it may need to be forced on them. Legislation is required to make mandatory neuropsychiatric treatments and police monitoring of computers and movement of these individuals. If Dateline MSNBC can “catch a predator”, certainly, as a society we can develop a system to “catch, treat and monitor a predator” rather than catch, humiliate, and profit off of a predator.
Although not as sexy, a constructive report would be to investigate whether or not legislation exists to enforce mandatory psychiatric treatment and police monitoring of perpetrators’ movements and their Internet activity. If such legislation exists, is it being enforced? Is it working? How can it be improved? Additionally, mandatory (chemical) castration should be debated and considered.
MSNBC could do it – maybe call it, “To Treat a Predator”.
Gregory H. Salerian, MVSW, LGSW received his Master’s degree in Clinical Social Work from Catholic University of America. Mr. Salerian lives and works in Washington, DC and has co-authored two scholarly articles published in a peer reviewed journal, The Forensic Examiner. Salerian appeared on Washington, DC’s CBS affiliate WUSA9 to discuss the article he co-authored about the failing health of President Roosevelt during his fourth term presidency and its’ consequences for the nation. Gregory Salerian is in private practice at the Washington Center for Psychiatry under the supervision and tutelage of Alen J. Salerian, M.D. and Janice Berry Edwards, PhD.
View the article here
Assembly's revamped sex-offender law will just send worst predators underground
A high court decision striking down the state's draconian sex offender law gave the General Assembly an opportunity to craft legislation that made the law more effective in protecting the public, more reasonable as well as constitutional.
The opportunity was wasted. Instead, the General Assembly chose to doctor the old law slightly and reinstate it, warts and all.
While federal law requires states to maintain registries of sex offenders, Georgia's law has gone further by imposing the nation's most restrictive residency and employment limits on offenders. The state's lifetime registry also grants no exemption for age or infirmity.
But the biggest flaw in Georgia's approach involves the decision to treat low-risk offenders, such as a 17-year-old who engages in consensual sex with a 15-year-old, the exact same way it treats a dangerous pedophile. Both offenders would be placed on the state's sex offender registry; both would be barred from living within 1,000 feet of any place where children congregate, including school bus stops, day care centers, parks, rec centers or skating rinks, and from working around schools, churches or day care centers.
Under the new law, the only exceptions are offenders who owned their homes before a school or day care or bus stop moved into the area.
As a result, 30-year-olds with jobs and families are being forced from their homes or apartments because back in high school they had sex with a younger girlfriend. It means that dying 88-year-olds in nursing homes that are close to school bus stops are now homeless and living at the taxpayers' expense in their local jails.
Virtually every advocate for sex abuse victims and every researcher in the area who testified urged lawmakers not to re-enact such sweeping restrictions, saying they hurt rather than help children. What keeps offenders from offending again is a stable community and ongoing treatment, two things lost when they are forced to move repeatedly to comply with the rigid restrictions.
In broadening the limits on where sex offenders can live and work, lawmakers have also hampered the ability of law enforcement to keep tabs on them. Because so many places are now off limits, police say sex offenders will stop registering and go underground rather than give up their homes, their jobs and their communities.
Georgia should reserve its sex registry for predatory offenders who truly pose a threat and eliminate those who were involved in consensual, nonviolent acts. It should also introduce a graduated system that imposes the severest restrictions on the worst offenders.
Not surprisingly, the state is already back in court in a legal battle that it deserves to lose.
"There is simply no evidence that 1,000-foot restrictions reduce sexual offenses," said Sarah Geraghty, an attorney for the Southern Center for Human Rights, which is suing the state. "It's unfortunate that our Legislature has again chosen political posturing over the safety of women and children."
—- Maureen Downey, for the editorial board (email@example.com)
View the article here
Another woman, another unequal punishment and basically a slap on the wrist, IMO. If a man did the same with 6 or 7 girls or boys, he'd be in prison for 10 or more years, and she gets 1 YEAR! Plus, they did not mention being on the registry. So will she be?
NEPHI — Her punishment is a year in jail and three years on probation for having sex with several 16- and 17-year-old boys, but there is nothing that 38-year-old Leisa Ward can do to take back what those boys now know.
"She created a culture or a society with these young men where she was the core of it — her and her sexual favors," said Deputy Juab County Attorney AnnMarie Howard. "I don't believe we have seen the full impact of that yet."
Ward, a mother of five from Nephi, was sentenced Tuesday morning in 4th District Court in Juab County on 11 counts of unlawful sexual conduct with five 16- or 17-year-old males.
The sexual relationships began in April 2007 with one victim and expanded to include four more teens in October and November. During a review at the Utah State Prison, Ward revealed three more victims. Additional charges were not filed however, due to a plea agreement.
Nephi police discovered the relationships by investigating rumors that turned out to be true.
"Your actions distorted their perception of reality, their perception of sexual conduct," 4th District Judge Donald Eyre told Ward. "(This) will affect (the victims) for the rest of their lives."
He said he hopes the boys get counseling, and ordered that Ward pay for it. He also reminded Ward that if she messed up on her three years of probation, she would be sent to prison on what could be five consecutive third-degree felonies, meaning a potential of 25 years.
- Hell, a man would be doing this for one victim, and for 8 victims???
One of the boys' mothers said she didn't want Ward on the street and became emotional as she talked about her son. The Deseret News doesn't name victims of sexual abuse.
"My son is going to hurt in the long run, be out searching for things that she taught him, things that (are) not even valid in a marriage," the mother said. After leaving the hearing, the mother called the sentence a slap on the wrist.
After a 79-day diagnostic review at the prison, Adult Probation and Parole recommended a prison sentence because Ward seemed to be shirking responsibility.
"Every report we have, we had a little bit different story about the involvement," said Belle Brough, supervisor of the AP&P diagnostic unit. "We felt like she never took full responsibility."
Other concerns were the number of victims, and the grooming behavior.
"A sex offender will typically groom victims until they're ready," Brough said. "Flirtations, text messaging, sending pictures of her body ... grooming these kids until a point that they felt comfortable enough to ask her for sexual intercourse."
Defense attorney Mike Esplin said Ward "has taken full responsibility for all the offenses to which she has entered pleas of guilty."
He said perhaps officers saw shirking behavior because Ward disclosed all the actions but didn't take responsibility for those that were dismissed or ones she said were not consensual on her part.
He said Ward had sought out counseling on her own in an attempt to deal with her "attention-seeking behavior" and try to understand why she acted out this way, Esplin said.
"I'd like to find some way to make right the wrongs I've done, the sorrow and pain I've caused upon these boys and their families," Ward told the judge. "I've spent the last several months seeing (my) thinking errors and how to change them."
- This has never worked for the average male citizen!
Ward sobbed as she listened to her husband, Bruce Ward, ask the judge for probation.
"I understand what she's done, probably better than anybody else here," Ward said. "My kids and I have suffered just like a lot of other people have. But I believe there's a chance for us. Even if it's a little chance, it's worth the risk."
He said he knows he will be criticized for choosing to stay with and support his wife, but he said he felt it is the right thing to do. He doesn't excuse her behavior but said he has seen a change of attitude through her daily letters.
"It's been the most difficult time that me and my kids have ever gone through," Bruce Ward told the judge. "They ask me questions, and I can't answer them. They want to know how and why and I just can't answer them. I think we can answer all those questions together ... if you'll allow it."
View the article here
I don't believe these statistics, since they do not provide a link to the so called "study," but here is one that disproves the online predator myth. And another here. But the software is a good idea, and of course it's not free, you have to pay for it. So much for protecting children, but exploiting the fear of parents.
PROVO - Over twenty six popular children’s characters are known to be fraudulently linked to sites that promote pornography. This year, one out of every seven children will be approached by a sexual predator online. Twelve percent of websites on the Internet are known to contain pornographic material. The FBI stated that their latest research revealed over fifty thousand child predators online at any point in time looking for potential victims.
With these kinds of statistics, parents worry more than ever about allowing their kids to surf the Internet. My Kids Browser is stepping in to change all that. Their one-of-a-kind, custom browser eliminates the possibility of exposure to pornography and predators online, giving children the freedom to enjoy the Internet and parents the freedom to let them.
Top-of-the-line filtering software readily identifies pornographic text, but it cannot tell the difference between pornography and regular JPEG images. Children continue to stumble across pornographic sites while engaging in harmless browsing, leaving parents frustrated and angry.
With My Kids Browser children are only given access to a select, customizable listing of educational and gaming sites that are parent approved.
“Filtering software has a difficult time knowing whether a picture is pornography or not”, says company representative Jacob Anderson. “Children might not ever read a 'bad' website, but they may still accidentally stumble upon pornography.
“Instead of giving children access to everything on the Internet and attempting to filter out what a program thinks is bad,” states Anderson “we only give them access to websites that are known to be clean.”
Along with its advanced security, the My Kids Browser sports a “Mr. Pocketwatch” feature that allows parents to limit the amount of time their kids spend online. It also features a lockdown/kiosk mode that makes it impossible for toddlers to open programs or change settings.
My Kids Browser’s easy installation process means parents can have it up and running in no time. The browser works with maximum efficiency straight out of the box, allowing parents to get to know the browser better before customizing their settings. There are no subscription fees required, and all customers are provided with regular updates free of charge.
Parents can go to www.mykidsbrowser.com to find more information and try the My Kids Browser free with their trial download.
This is a statement that was read over the PA system at the football game at Roane County High School, Kingston, Tennessee, by school Principal, Jody McLoud, on September 1, 2000. I thought it was worth sharing with the world and hope you will forward it to all your friends. It shows clearly just how far the US has gone in the wrong direction.
It has always been the custom at Roane County High School football games, to say a prayer and play the National Anthem, to honor God and Country. Due to a recent ruling by the Supreme Court, I am told that saying a Prayer is a violation of Federal Case Law.
As I understand the law at this time, I can use this public facility to approve of sexual perversion and call it, "an alternate lifestyle," and if someone is offended, that's OK. I can use it to condone sexual promiscuity, by dispensing condoms and calling it, "safe sex." If someone is offended, that's OK. I can even use this public facility, to present the merits of killing an unborn baby, as a "viable means of birth control." If someone is offended, no problem. I can designate a school day as, "Earth Day" and involve students in activities to worship religiously and praise the goddess, "Mother Earth," and call it "ecology." I can use literature, videos and presentations in the classroom that depict people with strong, traditional Christian convictions as, "simple minded" and "ignorant" and call it, "enlightenment."
However, if anyone uses this facility to honor God, and to ask Him to bless this event with safety and good sportsmanship, then Federal Case Law is violated. This appears to be inconsistent at best, and at worst, diabolical. Apparently, we are to be tolerant of everything and anyone, except God and His Commandments. Nevertheless, as a school principal, I frequently ask staff and students to abide by rules with which they do not necessarily agree. For me to do otherwise would be inconsistent at best, and at worst, hypocritical. I suffer from that affliction enough unintentionally. I certainly do not need to add an intentional transgression.
For this reason, I shall "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's," and refrain from praying at this time. However, if you feel inspired to honor, praise and thank God, and ask Him, in the name of Jesus, to bless this event, please feel free to do so. As far as I know, that's not against the law----yet."
One by one, the people in the stands bowed their heads, held hands with one another, and began to pray. They prayed in the stands. They prayed in the team huddles. They prayed at the concession stand, and they prayed in the announcer's box. The only place they didn't pray was in the Supreme Court of the United States of America - the seat of "justice" in the "one nation, under God."
Somehow, Kingston, Tennessee remembered what so many have forgotten..We are given the Freedom OF Religion, not the Freedom FROM Religion. Praise God that His remnant remains! Celebrate Jesus in 2002! Jesus said, "If you are ashamed of Me, I will be ashamed of you before my Father." If you are not ashamed, pass this on, but only if you mean it. Yes, I do Love God. He is my source of existence and Savior. He keeps me functioning each and every day. Without Him, I will be nothing, but with Him, I can do all things through Christ that strengthens me. Phillipians 4:13
View the article here
A group of kids from Rocky Mountain Middle School could face charges for child pornography.
Eyewitness news has learned that students at the school circulated a picture of a fellow student top-less via their cell phones.
We're told that's when the girl came forward and said someone had photo-shopped her face onto someone else's body.
According to the Bonneville Joint School District, that prompted a three day investigation involving both district 93 and the sheriff's office.
As of tonight, we're told the girl has admitted that she actually took the picture herself and sent it to her boyfriend who shared it with his friends.
"These are just middle school kids but when they take an inappropriate picture and send it to some one that is considered child pornography no mater what age the individual is," says Superintendent Dr. Charles Shackett. "The intent was not there with these children but the definition of what they did falls right into the statutes and could be punishable by a severe sentence or consequence. I don't think that should happen. I think you have to look at the situation and say what was the intent of the individuals."
The information is being handed over to the Bonneville County Prosecuting Attorney's Office tonight to determine what charges if any the kids will face.
If they are charged, the young teens could have to register as sex offenders.
You've heard from the school district, now we want to know what you think. Please send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
LARRY MAGID’S INTERVIEW WITH DAVID FINKELHOR
“It’s not primarily having a social networking profile or giving out personal information that puts kids at risk What puts kids at risk are things like having a lot of conflict with your parents, being depressed and socially isolated, being hyper, communicating with a lot of people online who you don’t know, being willing to talk about sex online with people that you don’t know.” - David Finkelhor
In the suicide case of 13-year-old Megan Meier, a 49-year-old mother, Lori Drew, allegedly posed as a teen-age boy to gain the affections of young Megan under false pretenses. After a flirtatious online relationship, this fictitious young man “broke up” with Megan and Megan hanged herself about an hour later. To many, this is a case of cyberbullying, though not a very typical one for several reasons discussed here. David Finkelhor is Director of the University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center and one of the world’s leading scholars when it comes to the victimization of children both on and off the Internet. In an interview with Dr. Finkelhor, I started by asking him to explain just how common or rare this type of situation happens to be.
FINKELHOR: Bullying happens an awful lot. As far as we know, it’s not typically adults who are bullying and harassing young people. It tends to be more often young-people-on-young-people, so this case was somewhat unusual in that sense. But the Internet does allow a lot of permutations that we might not have thought about in the area when children are more confined to their own kind of ghetto of childhood, so this is something that we might see more of.
MAGID: Moving away for a moment from the adult issue, how common is cyberbullying among children and teens and how much of an impact does it have on them?
FINKELHOR: We’re really getting our legs on this topic in trying to understand more about it. Bullying in general takes a terrific toll on children. In fact, when we talk with young people in an interview, this is one of the perils that they are most concerned about, and certainly many studies have shown it to have serious psychological impact. Our studies of harassment online suggested that it can have an impact on kids as well. But how serious it has to be and how long it has to go on before it really begins to kind of be corrosive, I don’t think we know all of that yet.
MAGID: What’s the difference between and schoolyard bullying and cyberbullying?
FINKELHOR: A lot of comparisons have been made, but I think we are still learning more about this. People like to emphasize the degree to which bullying can be anonymous online and the degree to which it could be amplified by being disseminated to large numbers of people. And [these factors] certainly increase the seriousness. But on the other hand, the physical intimidation dimensions aren’t quite as great as in face-to-face bullying. And we don’t know if there might in fact be some substitution of online bullying for old fashioned face-to-face bullying which means that it is somewhat less scary in some of its dimensions.
MAGID: I believe it was you, who reported that roughly 32-33% of youths have received some type of online harassment. Is that the case?
FINKELHOR: Right. That’s what our survey shows, but there’s been some use of the term “bullying” applied to that, and that’s probably not correct because the bullying authorities like to restrict that term to harassment and threats that occur over a continued period of time and that involve an imbalance of power between the perpetrator and the victim. And most of these online harassment situations don’t involve those two elements.
Predator Risk is not what a lot of people think
MAGID: This [Meier case] isn’t what you would typically call a predator case - although it is a case where an adult is posing as a child, but in this case not for sexual purposes but to otherwise harass. But let’s talk for a minute about predators. Because, if you look at some of the media reports, it seems almost as if there’s a predator behind every keyboard. How prominent is it?
FINKELHOR: “Predator” is not a word that I like to use a whole lot myself. “Offenders,” “perpetrators,” “abusers,” I think, work a lot better. There’s an image that developed in the media and to some extent in the educational programs that there are these Internet predators who trail all over the Internet looking for innocent young children who inadvertently log their personal information into a service online and then, using that information, they stalk these kids; they pretend to be other kids and lure them to meetings where they abduct them, rape or murder them. That’s not really, I think, a good description of the majority of the sex offenses that we see adults committing against children online. They primarily involve adults who are offending against teenagers. We see very few cases of young children, so primarily it’s 12-, 13-, 14-, 15-year-olds. There was a perception that people tend to think these adults usually are hiding the fact that they’re adults and eventually the kids come to see that they have a sexual interest in them as well, even if they don’t make that clear at the very beginning but certainly do when a meeting occurs.
MAGID: You’re saying that kids usually aren’t surprised. If they do actually wind up with a face-to-face meeting they’re not terribly surprised once they get there.
FINKELHOR: The kids typically go to these meetings and know that this is an encounter with somebody whom they’re romantically interested in or whom they are looking for an adventure with and where sex is on the agenda. These much more fit the stereotype of what you might call statutory sex crimes than either child molestation or forcible rape.
MAGID: In 2000 you did a study that reported that 1 in 5 youths had received an unwanted sexual solicitation and when you repeated that in 2005 it went down to 1 in 7, which is good. But I’ve read some reports in the media and from politicians that have used the word predator, that is, 1 in 5 or 1 in 7 young people have been approached by an online predator. Could you put that into some perspective?
FINKELHOR: In that survey we did find that 1 out of 7 young people who use the Internet [received] an unwanted sexual solicitation or inquiry from someone online. But those aren’t all predators by any stretch of the imagination. I like to say it’s more like 1 in 25 kids who encounter what we call an aggressive solicitation, somebody who sent them a kind of sexual message and is trying to follow that up in some way by actually trying to meet them or arranging to contact them offline as well.
MAGID: Right. But some of those 1 in 7, some of them are either minors - about half, I think - and then some of them, as you said, are non-aggressive, that the kids just deal with in some way?
FINKELHOR: Yeah, you can imagine, given the anonymity of the Internet, there are a lot of people who are just being fresh, I think. They’re asking kids, what’s your bra size? Or they’re making some rude sexual comment to them, it’s not necessarily a prelude to an attempt to meet them or sexually seduce them even.
MAGID: And then finally when you talk about the 1 in 25, and when you look at other data about “at risk kids,” it appears and again this is from looking at much of your research, that there is a pattern of risk and there are certain activities that kids engage in that tends to increase the risk. It’s more or less sociological or psychological conditions under which kids find themselves. And I am wondering whether we can begin to get a better understanding or have a better understanding as to who is at risk and what can be done for this particular population?
What puts kids at risk
FINKELHOR: That’s a good question. It’s not primarily having a social networking profile or giving out personal information that puts kids at risk. What puts kids at risk are things like having a lot of conflict with your parents, being depressed and socially isolated, being hyper, communicating with a lot of people online who you don’t know, being willing to talk about sex online with people that you don’t know. I think also, for example, having sexual orientation questions probably puts kids at risk
MAGID: Being in doubt about your sexual orientation?
FINKELHOR: Yeah, cause kids are online kind of looking for help on that and that makes them vulnerable. These are kids who have encountered trouble and are having difficulties in various places in their lives, probably because they don’t have good relationships, or they are in conflict, don’t have people to confide in. They’re out there and more vulnerable to these sexual exploitations.
MAGID: This doesn’t sound like a new story. This sounds like something that people have been talking about for decades in terms of kids at risk. Is there anything special about today’s high-risk kids versus the ones who were around 20, 30, 40 years ago?
FINKELHOR: That’s a good question. They certainly have many of the characteristics of kids that we’ve always regarded as being high risk. Although because the Internet maybe has not penetrated to some of the lower socio-economic strata yet these kids just may be kind of better off than the troubled kids that a lot of our social programs have been oriented towards in the past.
MAGID: And that brings up the final question, which is social problems. What can be done? I mean, do we need to educate the entire population or do we really have a sub-section of the population that needs some kind of special service in terms of online-safety education?
FINKELHOR: I think we need to do both. Both what you’d call primary and secondary prevention. I think that there are good Internet citizenship and safety skills that probably everybody should have. But we need a second tier of prevention programs that really are targeted to kids that might be at high risk or might be thinking about doing more edgy, dangerous kinds of things. They might be having some kinds of problems, and helping them to see what some of the consequences might be [would be helpful]. As for that group in particular, I think we need to say talking to their parents about how to better control and supervise them may not really work. These are kids who frequently are not amenable to parental control or maybe don’t have a very good relation with their parents. So we need to find ways, I think, to reach them more directly.
MAGID: David Finkelhor, the Director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, thank you very much.
FINKELHOR: Thank you. That was a good conversation.
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BOSTON - Flanked by district attorneys and Attorney General Martha Coakley (Contact), lawmakers unveiled legislation yesterday that would impose minimum mandatory sentences for repeat and violent sex offenders.
House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi (Email) ensured that the bill - a tougher version of which is backed by Republicans, including state Rep. Karyn Polito (Email) of Shrewsbury and former Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey - would pass before the session ends in July.
"We must do something here ... to strengthen the law to make sure that sexual predators on children in Massachusetts will be prosecuted, will be sent to jail and we are giving the tools to the prosecutors who are addressing this," DiMasi said during a press conference.
The legislation attaches minimum sentences to three categories of crimes: 15 years for aggravated rape of a child using force or a weapon, 10 years for indecent assault and battery on a child under 14, and 10 years for statutory rape. The proposed legislation has age requirements in the statutory rape category: the perpetrator must at least five years older than a child between 12 and 16 and at least 10 years older than a child younger than 12.
Offenders who are in a position of authority and trust, including doctors, psychologists, clergy and teachers can also be prosecuted under the aggravated rape category. Repeat offenders face up to 20-year mandatory minimum sentences.
Massachusetts is joining several states that have adopted harsher sex crime penalties following Florida's passage of Jessica's Law, named after 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford, who was raped and killed by a convicted sex offender in 2005.
Wendy Murphy, a victims rights advocate and former assistant Middlesex County district attorney, called the (House) legislation "watered down" and "a joke."
"They created a menu of choices so it remains the case today that a 50-year-old man can rape a 3-year-old child and be charged under one of three laws," she said. "One of those carries a mandatory sentence."
Murphy said she never prosecuted a case in which the offender used a weapon, and estimated that about 85 percent of cases would not fall within the aggravated forcible rape category.
"If you say you are going to adopt a mandatory law, you can't make it discretionary - that's the opposite of mandatory," she said. "There's something wrong with a legislative body that can't see that raping kids is more serious than selling drugs."
Michael O'Keefe, president of the Massachusetts District Attorney's Association, said the legislation gives prosecutors more room to negotiate plea bargains than the Florida law, which imposes 25-year mandatory minimum sentences for raping a child.
"This is a very easy issue to shout from the rooftops about 25 years to life for everybody who victimizes a child, but the reality is that...it is often someone who is very close to the child, even family members, and some of these victims are barely competent to testify in the court of law if they're young children and the older children are terribly embarrassed about what happened and fearful of facing their accusers," O'Keefe said.
"Perhaps we can use the leverage that is built into this statute to get the kind of resolution that is just."
Polito, who was not invited to the press conference, said that although she is happy to see the bill advance, the Democratic-backed version lacks crucial minimum sentences for first-time offenders who don't use force or weapons.
"Those aggravated circumstances do not address the day-to-day kind of rape that occurs and harms children...the prosecutors want leeway and flexibility built into the system, but I feel that children that can stand up and tell their story ought to know that their perpetrator will do jail time," Polito said.
Polito, who has proposed 10-year mandatory minimum sentences for rape of a child, said Judiciary Committee Chairman state Rep. Eugene O'Flaherty (Email), D-Chelsea, has not accepted her calls to discuss the legislation.
"I've worked very hard on this for a long time, and I don't want to give the public the perception that this is going to do the job when it's weaker than I think it should be."
The legislation still allows prosecutors to charge a defendant with rape of a child, which carries no minimum sentence, while also giving them the ability to convince offenders to accept a plea bargain by threatening them with a mandatory minimum statute if they choose to go to trial, said O'Flaherty's chief of staff, Alexis Finneran.