Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Caught in the Web

Eight states (Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Mississippi, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania) have requested that MySpace turn over the names and other information of any registered sex offenders that are currently using their site. Although, according to CNN, it is not clear as to whether MySpace is directly responding to this request, the largest social networking site did say it was removing known offenders from the site. According to the article MySpace announced in December that it was partnering with Sentinel Tech Holding Corp. to build a database with information on sex offenders in the United States.

Although efforts like these can't hurt, after reading Caught in the Web: Inside the Police Hunt to Rescue Children from Online Predators by Julian Sher, I am skeptical as to how helpful these efforts will really be. Sher, in his reporting of the issue of online child pornography (as opposed to focusing on older persons who try to meet F2F with youth for sexual encounters), brings up to essential points that are often overlooked when policy makers attempt to address the issue of child sexual abuse facilitated by the Internet:

1. For the most part, law enforcement works locally and within a jurisdiction. The Internet knows no geographical bounds and doesn't even stay within national borders. If society truly wants to stop online child sexual exploitation, it is going to have to embark on a serious international coordinated effort. Though Sher outlines steps that have been taken, showing that law enforcement has come along way in just a few years, there is nothing close to clear communication and/or a systematic procedure when dealing with this crime.

2. Child sexual abuse -- even that which begins online -- is still primarily perpetrated by family members or persons the child knows. Yes, strangers can abuse. But it is MUCH more likely that a child is going to be exploited by someone they know, and unfortunately trust.

Although sensationalistic at times (what True Crime book is not guilty of this tone?), Caught in the Web should probably be read -- or at least skimmed -- by anyone trying to "protect our children" from evil online predators. After digesting the information in this book, hopefully they will come away with an understanding of how the internet is a community to which the usual procedures of law enforcement cannot be applied -- especially if you ignore who the primary offenders continue to be.

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