Sunday, June 8, 2008

Declaration of Independence - July 4th, 1776

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

TX - 'To Catch a Predator' Police Chief Fired

View the article here

Also check out this article, and this one. And the video at the end, or at the above site.


Top Cop Who Allowed the NBC Show to Film in His Texas Town Was Fired This Week

The police chief of a Texas town that allowed NBC "Dateline's" "To Catch A Predator" to film stings of alleged sexual predators was fired this week. A city official says the police department's controversial participation with the sex-sting show had nothing to do with the firing of Chief Billy Myrick, but that a "change in leadership was necessary."

As ABC News' "20/20" reported last year, the Murphy police department made a deal with "Dateline" in 2006 to allow NBC camera crews to record stings of alleged Internet sexual predators and to let people hired by "Dateline" actually set up and run the sting.

The production ended tragically when one of the alleged offenders, an assistant district attorney from a neighboring county, committed suicide when "Dateline" cameras showed up at his home in the company of Murphy police after the man failed to show up to the sting house.

Former Murphy police officers told ABC News that the decision to go to the suspect's home was made at the suggestion of the host of the program, NBC's Chris Hansen.

Then-police chief Myrick denied these claims. "The television network did not take over the law enforcement operation in no shape, form or fashion," Myrick told ABC News last year.

NBC also has denied it played any role in the decision to go to the man's home and make the arrest, which involved a SWAT team breaking down the man's door after he did not answer.

As for the 23 other alleged sexual predators arrested in Murphy during production, the district attorney threw out all the cases saying the police's reliance on "Dateline's" investigation compromised the evidence obtained.

Myrick, however, at the time insisted that his department behaved properly. "We know we did a right thing. We went out on a mission to arrest bad people that were here to harm the children of this community," he told ABC News. "People were coming here because they actually believed that they were actually talking to a 12- or 13-year-old child. That's it. No different than any law enforcement mission that we take on every day of the week."
- Yeah, but letting Dateline control it for ratings and to humiliate someone on national TV is a whole different ball of wax.

Many in the town disagreed and called for Myrick's immediate resignation because they felt he mishandled the operation. Now two years later, Murphy City Manager James Fisher, who was hired this spring, has fired Myrick though he downplayed the fallout from the show, saying it did not factor into his decision.

Myrick could not be reached for comment.

ME - Sex offender law up for town vote

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NORWAY - A proposed ordinance to restrict the areas where sex offenders can reside or visit will go before voters at the annual town meeting on June 16, selectmen decided Thursday.

The ordinance defines a registered sex offender as a person convicted of committing a sex offense against a child under the age of 18 and required to register for life.

Such offenders would be forbidden from residing or loitering within 2,500 feet of the property line of a school or 1,000 feet of the property line of a day-care center. These offenders would also be forbidden from entering the premises of a school or day-care center without the permission of the school administration or day-care owner.

Chief Robert Federico of the Norway Police Department said a recently added clause in the ordinance would require sex offenders to pay a $25 per-reporting fee, payable at the time of initial registration and each address verification thereafter. The fees would benefit the Rape Education and Crisis Hotline.
- More extortion! Make sure you pay it and sign it "UNDER DURESS!"

Federico said the majority of Norway's sex offenders are required to report once every 90 days, although some are required to report only once a year.
- So they have to basically pay $100.00 per year, and another $25 if they are forced to move. Sounds like a HUGE money making scam to me!!!

If the ordinance passes, it will not apply to offenders currently living within the zones around schools and day-care centers. It will also not apply to offenders if a school or day-care center is built or moved to within 2,500 or 1,000 feet of their residence.

Violation of the ordinance would be a civil offense, and the town could assess a minimum $500 fine against the offender for each day a violation continues.

Scott Westberry said he proposed the ordinance, in part, to get his brother, a sex offender, to move out of town. Westberry's brother has since moved to Pennsylvania.

"If it gets passed, it was well worth it," Westberry said.

NY - Man fights to remove sex offender designation

View the article here | Is this the same man?

WTF? This was consensual sex! The "holier than thou" politicians need to get out more often or something! Get off their high horses! I think they sit in their offices and see who can come up with the most insane law, or they are brain dead! So I wonder if the next time one of them has consensual sex outside of marriage, they will put themselves on the sex offender registry? Of course not, laws do not apply to the holy people!


Military law and N.Y. ruling have ex-soldier on list

AUBURNA former Army sergeant's consensual sexual tryst with an adult female soldier has earned him the designation of "sex offender" in civilian life for the next 20 years.

The label is the result of a collision between military law that prohibits sexual activity between military personnel that involves alcohol — whether it is consensual or not — and New York state law that dictates any person who is convicted of a sex crime must be placed on the state's Sex Offender Registry.
- OK, so it's a insane law that needs to be deleted!!

Jason Fleming, 29, of Sterling, N.Y., was in Cayuga County Court in Auburn last week to ask Judge Thomas Leone to waive his designation as a Level 1 offender — the lowest level.

Fleming was a sergeant in the Army and was court-martialed for having oral sex with a lower-ranking female soldier, said his lawyer, Michael Conroy.

Conroy said the sex was consensual and the woman was older than 21. The military law Fleming was convicted under considered the sex "forcible" because alcohol was involved.

"They simply had drinks, and she engaged in sex with Mr. Fleming," the lawyer said.

Consensual sex with an adult is not a crime under New York state law, so Fleming should not be on the registry, Conroy said.
- IT IS NOW!! So all the New York politicians, the next time they have sex with their wife, after having some alcohol, need to submit their names to be on the registry for 20 years, hell, life!!!!

District Attorney Jon Budelmann said the sex registry law states that if a person is convicted of a sex crime — even in another jurisdiction such as a military court-martial — the person must register and must be assigned a risk level.

The judge agreed.

"I feel some of your arguments are compelling," Leone told Conroy, "but I find no reason to depart from the instrument."
- So much for serving your country! They use you, then screw you!!!

As a Level 1 offender, Fleming will be on the registry for 20 years, but the general public will not have access to personal information about him.

AZ - Internet stalkers' victims can fight back

View the article here

I know this very well. Hmm, maybe I'll contact the police? Maybe they should check out some of the blogs I have?


Cop-killing case highlights problem, possible solutions

In the wake of David Nickolas Delich's alleged slaying of a Tucson police officer, two of the suspect's former acquaintances say they reported him for Internet harassment, either formally or informally, to the police without results.

If true, specialists in the increasingly frequent crime of cyberstalking, domestic-violence experts and even police say it shouldn't have happened that way.

While the Internet offers stalkers an extra layer of anonymity, one recent victim said it is possible to fight back, and she credits the Pima County Sheriff's Department and the Tucson Police Department with saving her life.

The National Institute of Justice estimates a million Americans fall victim to stalkers each year. Although police statistics don't differentiate between online harassment or stalking and those victimized on the street, experts agree that the Internet is increasingly the weapon of choice.

"The Internet is just another tool to exert power and fear, and they can do it in a way that's more anonymous," said Sarah Jones, chief executive officer of Emerge Center Against Domestic Abuse.

In Theresa's case, she was thrilled to get an e-mail from an old junior high school friend who found her on Theresa is a Tucson victim whose last name is not being used because she's hiding from her cyberstalker.

After a whirlwind romance, they moved in together.

She quickly learned she had made a mistake, but it took two years to build the courage to sever the relationship and another two years and a jail term for the threatening text messages and e-mails to stop.

"He just wouldn't let go," Theresa said. "He had this fantasy in his head."

Police and sheriff's deputies repeatedly wrote reports about his hundreds of threats. When he e-mailed revealing photos of her to her co-workers, they documented the incident and obtained warrants for his arrest.

After he was released from jail, they even helped get her out of her lease so he couldn't find her, Theresa said.

In the aftermath of last Sunday's fatal shooting of Tucson police Officer Erik Hite, Erin Schrader and Katie Freibert said that was not the response they got when they reported Delich, 25, who had been threatening them for months.

Schrader said she filed a report with the Tucson police in February but never heard back.

If police had checked out Delich's accounts, Schrader said, they would have seen a blog written on Feb. 22 that read, "Soon I plan to kill many police officers."

Freibert, who works at a hospital, chats with police officers often. She told at least six officers about Delich's threats, Freibert said. They all told her she couldn't get an injunction against him to stop his harassment unless she had his physical address, which she didn't.

And none urged her to file a formal complaint against Delich, Freibert said, adding that she received about 100 threatening messages from Delich.

For three years, Freibert said, she was terrified to walk from the hospital to her car after dark.

"I had nightmares," Freibert said. "I'd wake up crying. I'd wake up thinking he was there, holding a gun to my head."

On Monday, Tucson police spokeswoman Lt. Claudette Gross said an investigation is launched whenever officers deem a threat is credible.
- What about with the victim feels the threat is credible?

On Saturday, police confirmed that Schrader did file a complaint against Delich.

After two days of inquiry, Gross said that because of preparations for Hite's Tuesday funeral, no one in the department was available to discuss whether you must have someone's address to get a protective order, or other departmental investigative policies.

The Pima County Sheriff's Department immediately prioritizes threats, harassment or stalking complaints, sheriff's Sgt. Cathryn Masters said.

"We take these threats just as seriously as any other threat; we don't just dismiss them because they came through the computer," Masters said.

Death threats are obviously at the top of the list, followed by overt threats made by an anonymous person who has information about the victim that is not common knowledge, Masters said.

That information could indicate the threatening person has been near the victim, Masters said.

If a threat is made after a recent run-in with the suspect, that case also would be given top consideration, Masters said.

The message itself also helps to prioritize an investigation, Masters said. For example, an overt threat would be given priority over a vague threat.

Deputy Pima County Attorney Nicol Green said the cases that are prosecuted are those in which there is a "substantial" likelihood of conviction.

"There's not a whole lot of difference to me whether it was done over the phone or in an e-mail; the impact is the same on the victim," Green said.

And often, stalking activities extend beyond the Internet.

When evaluating cases, prosecutors look at the messages, but they also look to see if the suspect's actions have escalated and determine how many events there have been overall, and whether a suspect has violated an existing protective order.

The differences in each case could mean the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor charge, Green said.

Someone can be charged with felony stalking if the offender does something that would make a "reasonable" person fear for his safety or the safety of his immediate family, according to state law. That conduct could include verbal, written or other threats, whether expressed or implied. It also must have occurred two or more times. The penalty: up to five years in prison.
- So what about groups like Perverted-Justice and AZU?

Misdemeanor harassment, which can draw a six-month sentence, is if the offender communicate with another person verbally, electronically, mechanically, telegraphically, telephonically or in writing in a harassing manner.

If an order of protection or an injunction against harassment is in place at the time of the harassment, that person could be charged with aggravated harassment, which is a felony, punishable by up to two years in prison.

Masters, who heads the Sheriff's Department community problems unit, said people often leave themselves vulnerable to cyberstalkers and other Internet criminals by adding their names to e-mail lists, giving their real names in public forums, leaving their social networking pages unrestricted or sharing passwords.

"People need to know that preventing these things is much easier than tracking down suspects after the fact," Masters said.

People also can become victims of not knowing the law, said Marsali Hancock, president of the Internet Keep Safe Coalition, based in Arlington, Va. Many believe they can't do anything about being harassed because of the First Amendment, he said.

In fact, when people join MySpace and Facebook, they agree to follow certain rules, Hancock said. "It's so important for Web users to report bad behavior," he added, because those misbehaving people can be banned.

Jones, of Emerge Center Against Domestic Abuse, said people who don't know where to turn can call the center's hot line 24 hours a day, seven days a week, even if they're not being stalked by a former loved one.

"People feel embarrassed, and a lot of people go into judgment mode. They start thinking, 'Maybe I'm blowing this out of proportion.' But anytime there's a level of violation, it needs to be reported," Jones said.

Even if the initial message doesn't warrant an arrest, each subsequent message will raise the importance that law-enforcement agencies give the case, Jones said.

Forensic psychologist Sergio Martinez considers sending harassing or threatening messages over the Internet to be an act of violence, because the perpetrator is invading the victim's privacy.

"They want to exert power and control over others, but typically there is not one specific factor as to why," Martinez said. Some are self-centered and have a sense of entitlement and grandiosity; others are often loners who have low self-esteem and want to add some excitement to their lives, he said.

Sadly, there is no way to predict a stalker's behavior with 100 percent accuracy, Martinez said.

Mental health experts may be able to offer an opinion on how dangerous a stalker is, given enough time and information about the stalker.

Unfortunately, law-enforcement officers too often don't have a lot of time or information when they are forced to make risk assessments, Martinez said. "I think they all try to do the best they can, but there's always room for human error," he said.

Contact reporter Kim Smith at 573-4241 or

TN - Tenn. death row inmate House given $500,000 bond

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WTF? See the comments from another user.


MAYNARDVILLE - A judge has set bond at half a million dollars for a man who is being retried on a murder charge after spending 22 years on Tennessee's death row.

Paul House was sentenced to death for slaying of a young mother.

But in 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court concluded he would not have been convicted based on evidence that emerged years after his trial. Prosecutor Paul Phillips has pledged to retry House but won't seek the death penalty again.

Criminal Court Judge Shayne Sexton says he weighed the fact that House has multiple sclerosis and must use a wheelchair. But he also says he had to consider that he has a sex crime conviction in Utah.

The inmate's mother says she doesn't know if she could raise the money.

FL - For The Record - Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum - June 1st, 2008

Original Video Here

And here he goes spreading the "1 in 5" again.

Regular Slashdot contributor Bennett Haselton has some opinions on child safety online and the use of fear mongering. Here are his thoughts.

"The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has been running online ads for several years saying that "Each year 1 in 5 children is sexually solicited online", a statistic that has been endlessly repeated, including by vendors of blocking software and by politicians who often paraphrase it to say that 1 in 5 children "are approached by online predators". While others have quietly documented the problems with this statistic, lawmakers still bring it out every year in a push for more online regulation (preempted this year only by the topic du jour of cyberbullying), so it's time for anti-censorship organizations to start campaigning more aggressively against the misleading "1 in 5" number. That means two things: framing the debate with more accurate numbers, and holding the parties accountable for disseminating the wrong ones -- and that means naming names, including those of organizations like the NCMEC that are normally beyond reproach."

Read below for the rest.

I have no doubt that on balance, the world is a better place because of the NCMEC and what they've done, and God knows how I'd feel about them if they'd helped me find a lost child. But the good things they've done shouldn't be viewed as political capital that they can withdraw against in order to be above criticism for spreading the "1 in 5" meme. The longer they go on implying to parents that there is a 1-in-5 chance their kid will be asked by an adult to meet in person for sex, the more I think it tarnishes their whole legacy. (The NCMEC did not respond to contact requests for this article.)

First, what the 1-in-5 number actually means. It originated with a study done in 2000 by the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, which surveyed 1,501 Internet-using youth age 10 through 17. The actual relevant findings of the study were as follows:

  • The 1 in 5 figure was the number that had received at least one instance of unwanted sex talk (including from other teenagers), or sex talk from an adult (whether wanted or not), in the past year.
  • The proportion of respondents who received a sexual flirtation from an adult, followed by a request to talk on the phone or meet in person, was about 1%.
  • The number of survey respondents who actually befriended an adult online and then met the adult in person for sexual purposes, was zero.

Specifically: About 19% of respondents said had received a "sexual solicitation or approach" (my emphasis), and "sexual solicitations and approaches" were defined as: "requests to engage in sexual activities or sexual talk or give personal sexual information that were unwanted or, whether wanted or not, made by an adult". That means any unwanted sex talk, including from other teens, even if limited to one occurrence in the entire previous year, would cause a respondent to be included in the 19% figure (which, when you define it that broadly, actually sounds pretty low). To say that those 1 in 5 minors were "sexually solicited" -- literally, asked for sex -- is simply false.

The actual proportion of respondents who reported that someone made sexual overtures and asked to talk on the phone or meet in person -- what the study called an "aggressive sexual solicitation" -- was 3%, and 34% of those requests were known to have been made by adults. And even this overestimates the proportion of minors who were truly "sexually solicited", because all it means is that an adult started out by talking to them sexually, and then made some request for offline contact, which could have merely been asking for a phone number. So the scenario that comes to mind when hearing that "1 in 5 children is sexually solicited online" -- of being approached sexually by an adult and asked for an in-person meeting -- had actually happened to no more than 1% of respondents, and probably much fewer than that.

And this is just considering the percentage of youth who received solicitations, not taking into account how they responded. Out of 1,501 youth surveyed, none of them reported actually meeting an adult in person for anything that they described as sexual contact. Two teens in the study had "close friendships" with adults that the authors wrote "may have had sexual aspects". One 17-year-old boy had a relationship with a woman in her late twenties that he described as "romantic" but not sexual, and they never met in person. Another 16-year-old girl became close to a man in his thirties, and they met in a public place, but she described the relationship as non-sexual, and she declined to spend the night with him. (While these could still be considered "close calls", it's worth noting that even if the 16- and 17-year-olds had actually had a sexual relationship with their adult friends, that would have in fact been legal in many U.S. states, and in any case it's not what most people think of when they hear about "children" being "sexually solicited online".)

Of course all of this depends on the accuracy of the answers that the youth gave to the surveyors. But the "1 in 5" figure was based on the youths' stated responses as well. People who cite the study can't have their cake and eat it too, taking the "1 in 5" number as accurate but discounting the fact that none of the teens surveyed reported a sexual relationship with an adult they met online.

These were the data that were available in 2000, when the "1 in 5" number started being spread. The authors of the original study followed up with a 2005 report, "Online Victimization of Youth: Five Years Later", in which the corresponding statistics were:

  • 1 in 7 respondents received unwanted sex talk or sex talk from an adult, at some point in the past year.
  • The proportion of respondents who received a sexual flirtation from an adult, followed by a request to communicate offline, was again about 1-2%. (4% of respondents reported a sexual flirtation plus a request to correspond offline. The new study reported that 39% of all sexual solicitations were made by adults, but did not say what proportion of "aggressive sexual solicitations" -- which included requests for offline contact -- were made by adults.)
  • Out of 1,501 respondents surveyed in 2005, two did report an in-person meeting that led to a sexual crime -- one was a 15-year-old girl who met a 30-year-old man in person and had consensual sex with him, and another was a 16-year-old girl who went to a party with an older male she met online who later tried to rape her. But even these incidents (which were both reported to law enforcement) do not mean that the Internet is a more dangerous environment for youth with regard to interaction with adults. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's own Web site links to a study -- also by one of the authors of the "Online Victimization" report -- which found that when all types of abuse are counted, 20% of females experience some type of sexual victimization before adulthood, compared to 2 out of 750 female survey respondents in the "Online Victimization" study who reported sexual abuse by someone they met online.

The NCMEC has updated their Web site to say that "one in seven youths (10 to 17 years) experience a sexual solicitation or approach while online", although the banner ads still say 1 in 5. But I think the 1-in-7 versus 1-in-5 is hardly worth nit-picking, when the real problem is that the statement "1 in 5 children is sexually solicited online" is written in a way that virtually guarantees it will be mis-heard and passed along as a statement involving "online predators" or "pedophiles". "Authorities Say 1 in 5 Children Has Been Approached By Online Predators" reads the sub-heading of a story on ABC news. "20% of children who use computer chat rooms have been approached over the Internet by a pedophile" says an online safety site sponsored by the Albemarle County government in Virginia. "One in five kids in America are approached by online predators" says a Congressman's press release.

The NCMEC itself never says that 1 in 5 or 1 in 7 children is "approached by a pedophile", merely that they are "sexually solicited online". I still think this is false because that is not the proportion of minors who are literally solicited for sex, but suppose that you expanded "sexual solicitation" to include all sex talk, so that the statement was "technically true". That still misses the point, because the issue shouldn't be seen as a game where sides try to make their statements as alarmist as possible while still being "technically true", like the kid with his petition to ban "dihydrogen monoxide". If you say something that is virtually guaranteed to get passed along as a wrong and alarmist statement about "pedophiles", aren't you at least partly responsible?

Why, then, does the NCMEC do it? Their site does have a "Donate" link, but it's very low-key, and the site generally seems to steer first-time visitors towards actions that they can take with regard to their own children. So I'm not cynical enough to think the "1 in 5" statistic is a campaign to scare up donations; I think they really do believe they are doing good by getting people to believe that number and to take action based on it. The problem is that there is such a thing as too much worrying and too much overprotection. Sites like Facebook are often used to organize parties and events and send out venue changes, just because that's the most efficient way to do it, and if your parents ban you from getting on Facebook, you'll miss out on simple things like that. What good does that do for anybody? Critics of overprotection often say that overly sheltered kids may rebel later on and get themselves in worse trouble, and that's often true, but so what even if they don't? Your quality of life is still worse off if you're the only one in your peer group who can't get updates about your friends' parties. And your parents' quality of life will be worse if they're constantly wringing their hands thinking that there is a 1 in 5 chance their kid will be propositioned online by a pedophile.

So I would urge the NCMEC to reconsider what they're telling people. Regarding the "1 in 5" meme that's already out there, it's spread so far that it's probably too late for the NCMEC to put the genie back into the bottle. But any anti-censorship group participating in a debate about online safety should put the real statistics forward, and since many in the audience will have heard the "1 in 5" figure somewhere, take a minute to knock it down as well. You don't have to commit political suicide by calling out the NCMEC specifically for spreading the "1 in 5" number, but put the right numbers out there.

Unfortunately the subject of child safety is such that wrong information, from any source, is unlikely to be criticized if it's erring on the side of caution, but some memes die faster than others. Microsoft's resource page about "online predators" says that "if you find pornography on the family computer" -- not child porn, but regular pornography -- that could be a warning sign that "your child is the target of an online predator". I think that's a wildly irresponsible thing to be telling parents, but fortunately the meme does not seem to have spread beyond that one page, which probably not one parent in a thousand will ever actually read.

Online Vigilantes

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Law enforcement needs the public's help to solve most crimes, and more police are using the Internet to facilitate that communication. But when does citizen participation go too far and become online vigilantism?

Numerous law enforcement agencies across the country tap the Net for citizen input. In California, a state Highway Patrol Web page was developed for residents to report neighbors who register their vehicles more cheaply out of state, but use California highways.

Some citizens, however, take matters into their own hands, launching Web sites such as Perverted Justice, which claims to patrol Internet chat rooms to expose "wannabe pedophiles."

Perverted Justice and similar sites say part of their mission is to assist short-handed police agencies. But law enforcement organizations have an uneasy relationship with their unofficial allies.

"We call them vigilante sites," said Sgt. Dave Jones of the San Diego Police Department's Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.

Jones said there are "tons" of sites like Perverted Justice, where staff enter chat rooms posing as young girls or boys and engage adult men who may be looking for sex with minors. A site administrator or volunteer will log into a chat room posing as a youngster, and it is said that an adult male with bad intentions inevitably will begin chatting with the volunteer. The Perverted Justice volunteer engages the adult in conversation, and often times persuades the adult to send a photo and phone number. A young-sounding volunteer confirms the individual's identity through a phone call, after which, the guy's mug is plastered on the site alongside the chat transcript.

A staff member from Perverted Justice said the site was constructed out of disgust for online enticement of children, as well as desire to help law enforcement with a national problem growing out of control.

A 1999 National Center for Missing & Exploited Children study of 1,501 teens and preteens found that one in five had been solicited for sex over the Internet. Less than 10 percent of those reported the incident to authorities.
- And how many of those were adults or other children? They leave you to "assume" it's all perverted adults who are doing this, when that is not the case, as shown in several studies debunking the online predator myths, here and here are two examples.

It is clear that law enforcement wants to know about these incidents. What's not so forthcoming is their support of these online groups.

"If you see something bad out there, you have every right to take action and report it," Jones said. "What's that saying? It used to take a village to raise a kid, now it takes the whole world. But do we encourage private citizens to go out there and solicit this stuff? No, we're not allowed to and we wouldn't anyway."

It's Perverted Justice
A source from Perverted Justice said the original goal of the founder, who calls himself Xavier Von Erck, was to clean up chat rooms he frequented in Portland, Ore., which he called "cesspools," replete with adults trying to solicit youngsters. "It's a habit for some of these guys," said a member of Perverted Justice who called himself Thoebus Apollo. "It's really kind of disturbing how predator-like these chat rooms have become."

The group said it found success in cleaning up the Portland chat rooms and moved on to other areas.

Apollo said the site's contributors log in to a chat room, start up an underage profile and wait. Sometimes they post a picture (a decoy) of a young person, although he wouldn't say where they get the pictures. "I'm telling you, you'll get between three and 10 people who IM you if you say nothing more than your age, your gender and your location," he said.

Apollo said Perverted Justice does not initiate private IM conversations with individuals. Members wait in the chat room until someone looking for underage girls or boys initiates a conversation, which usually doesn't take long, he said. "It's like blood in water full of sharks."

For every individual with his mug posted on the Perverted Justice site, four or five others engaged a Perverted Justice member in chat room conversation but weren't "busted" for one reason or another, according to the group.

"I hope the ones that get away read the Web site so they can stop what they're doing," Apollo said.

Tips from Perverted Justice have resulted in a few arrests, and some predators have found themselves staring at television cameras when they thought they were meeting a youth for sex. These are called "group media busts," where news organizations are alerted to a meeting between Perverted Justice and a would-be perpetrator.

Most public safety agencies view these activities with ambivalence, at best.

Tom Kelley, spokesman for Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, said law enforcement will generally not endorse or condemn such groups, but that Abbott believes this type of operation should be left to law enforcement.

"We believe that we and other law enforcement agencies need to do those kinds of investigations undercover, if you will," Kelley said. "And bring a clean, clear case to court for trial and not through another channel not recognized as legitimate law enforcement."

Perverted Justice started with the goal of publicly shaming those who use the Web to solicit sex from minors. Lately, however, the group has focused on trying to help police lock up offenders.
- Now they target anybody who is on the sex offender registry or who is an activist against these draconian sex offender laws.

"More and more, we're working with police and trying to revise the protocols and make the site better in regard to police action," Apollo said. "Our ultimate goal is to have police follow through in a legal manner and get convictions."

To help do that, Perverted Justice is creating a data center, a private file-sharing network on its Web site. The center will store and encrypt chat logs as evidence to share with law enforcement. Perverted Justice also said it is embarking on a collaborative effort with law enforcement where the group will agree not to pursue a suspect if law enforcement takes the case first.

"Police, for all their good efforts, are under-funded and understaffed," Apollo said. "They're not capable of approaching this full blast. They have a lot of good efforts in the field, but it's not creating an impact in the chat rooms themselves. We're not trying to replace the police effort. We're attempting to work with them at every level to make things better."

Law enforcement officials are skeptical, though.

Jones of the San Diego Police Department said his Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force takes tips from anyone, but that information must be confirmed by law enforcement. Evidence provided by groups such as Perverted Justice is almost useless, he said. "It's actually more work for us than if we find the leads ourselves because we have to go back and redo everything they did to confirm what they did."

Jones said investigating crimes that originate online is a tricky matter for police, who sometimes haven't been schooled on how to investigate them. "It's a tough issue to do an investigation correctly so you maintain the scene of evidence and the integrity of the communications you're looking at."

For law enforcement, clearing someone of being suspected of such a crime is just as important as getting a conviction because the tag of child molester is not easy to shake, according to Jones. "To say that we're extremely careful before we hang that kind of a label on somebody is a vast understatement."

Is It Entrapment?
Although Perverted Justice said it never initiates conversations in private IM chat rooms, some conversations could be construed as crossing the line in terms of enticement, but it's clearly not illegal.

"It's sleazy," said Cedric Laurant, policy council for the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC). "Especially since they have advertisements on the Web site."

Still, it is not considered entrapment if done by another private citizen, Laurant said. "If you chat with someone you assume to be a 13-year-old girl, that's your problem. And if it ends up on a Web site, there is no law that has been breached.
- But what if you've already been charged with a crime, done your time, and now just because you take a stand against these draconian laws, they plaster your picture and lies about you on their web sites? That is harassment.... They even attack victims of sexual abuse who happen to know a sex offender, and in some cases, a victim who is nothing more than a victim.

"The major concern is that they actually impede law enforcement investigation," Laurant added.

Jones said he's worked cases where Perverted Justice got in the way of criminal investigators. "We've had them hit on undercover operations we were going on," Jones said. "Law enforcement has gone back to them and said 'Hey, we're working this site. Back off.' They basically go, 'Screw you. We're doing what we want.'"
- So if they are causing problems with an investigation, then that is against the law!

Perverted Justice contends its mere presence acts as a deterrent. Laurant acknowledged that Perverted Justice may discourage predators from visiting online chat rooms. "But if they are real pedophiles, they will try other ways to satisfy their urges," he added.