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2011 column image: 
2011 column title: 

Protecting Wisconsin's Children From Internet Predators

2011 column date: 
Wednesday, June 8, 2011
2011 column text: 
Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen

Our kids are our most precious resource. Families work very hard to raise them, pass along values and traditions, educate them, and give them every opportunity to achieve their dreams. At the Department of Justice, we also work very hard to protect them. Nowhere is this commitment greater than in our efforts to fight Internet predators.

 

While the Internet has opened many doors for our children, from education to communication to entertainment, it has also become an active crime scene. Online sex predators use technology to connect with kids, using all the tools they use: instant messaging, picture and video trading, chat rooms, web cameras, web microphones, social networking sites like MyYearbook and Facebook, and even online gaming networks like X-Box Live.

 

Child pornographers have invaded the Internet in many forms. Commercial pornography websites find an endless supply of customers in the U.S., including in Wisconsin. Others use chat rooms to obtain and trade images and movies, while some simply use their own digital cameras, camcorders, or cell phones to manufacture images. As for cell phones, have you heard the term “sexting?” It refers to sexually explicit text messages and photos through cellular telephones. Often, predators use cell phones to further their exploitation of children after meeting those children online.

 

Predators also use file sharing programs which many parents believe are just used for music. Those same file sharing programs are venues for child predators to collect and share child pornography images and videos.

 

Statistics kept by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) illustrate the scope of the problem:

  • Since NCMEC's Child Recognition and Identification System (CRIS) was launched in September 2002, the CRIS has reviewed more than 50 million child pornography images and movies seized by law enforcement.
  • Since 1998, NCMEC's Cyber Tipline has received well over 1 million reports of suspected online child exploitation taking place around the country. Since 2008, NCMEC has sent over 700 hundred Cybertips to the Wisconsin ICAC Task Force.

To make matters more disturbing, surveys have shown a correlation between child pornographers and child molesters. In 2005, sobering results were released from a study at the Federal Correctional Institution in Butner, North Carolina. Researchers indicated that of about 200 federal inmates convicted of Internet child pornography crimes, some 85% admitted to molesting children as well.

 

The Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force of my office's Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) is dedicated to identifying and arresting those predators. In the past five years, the ICAC Task Force has arrested more than 500 offenders and executed more than 900 search warrants. To help prevent children from becoming victims, and to help parents, teachers, and child welfare advocates better protect children, we have educated more than 200,000 citizens of all ages across Wisconsin. Parents are the first line of defense in protecting their children from online predators. We have included some tips for parents to help protect their children.

 

Last week, the Joint Committee on Finance unanimously approved my request included in Governor Walker's 2011 budget bill for position authority and funding for 8 positions (4 criminal analysts, 3 special agents, and 1 operations program associate) in 2011-12 to provide additional resources to the Internet Crimes Against Children task Force (ICAC) at DOJ, and an additional 3 positions (1 criminal analyst and 2 operations program associates) for ICAC in 2012-13.”

 

Our DCI professionals partner with a growing list of local law enforcement agencies and Boys and Girls Clubs throughout the state. We now have 168 ICAC affiliates throughout the state, nearly tripling our partnerships since just 2008. Additionally, we work hand-in-hand with our federal counterparts to investigate crimes against children that result in a wide-range of federal charges.

 

Let it be known to Internet predators: we know you are out there. You cannot hide. Every day we add more partners to our task force that has the sole purpose to identify you and bring you to justice. Law enforcement, along with the people of Wisconsin, has no tolerance for your actions. Your time is running out.

Attorney General Van Hollen's Internet Safety Tips for Parents

  • Be an Active Parent. Keep open lines of communications with children about Internet use. This process should begin as soon as a child gets online.
  • Prepare Your Children for the Online World as You Do the Real World. Make no mistake, the online world is real, and so are its dangers. Talk to your children about the benefits and dangers of the Internet. You tell your children not to jump into a stranger's car alone and why that's dangerous; tell them why they shouldn't travel the Internet Highway alone and why that is dangerous.
  • Watch Internet Use. Internet predators are watching your children online. You need to be too. One suggestion: keep computers in common areas, not in your child's bedroom
  • Use Software Resources. Use filters that block inappropriate websites or online services that are harmful to kids. Consider installing monitoring software, which records everything kids do online, from instant messaging to videos to picture trading.
  • Learn How to Use it. From an early age, we teach our children how to use technology like computers and the Internet in school. As parents, you should familiarize yourself with this technology as well. With this knowledge, you will be in a better position to ensure your children's safety.
  • It's Not Just the Computer. Find out how your children are communicating and understand the technology. If you can't appropriately supervise use, don't allow it.
  • Report Online Exploitation. Call local law enforcement or the Wisconsin ICAC Task Force at (608) 266-1671.
  • Find Out More. Visit the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's “NetSmartz” websites. www.netsmartz411.org is geared to help parents; www.netsmartz.org includes information for parents, kids, educators, and law enforcement. We use these materials. You should too.

Visit us online. Visit here for more information. Like us on Facebook at WI ICAC Task Force and follow us on Twitter @WIICACTaskForce to receive current updates on the WI ICAC Task Force and other Internet safety information.