Friday, October 13, 2006

The Legal Loopholes Regarding Online Predator Behavior 

[...] a law is only as good as its use. And local and federal authorities acknowledge that few offenders have been prosecuted under both the state and federal law here.

"I cannot recall that we have gone after anyone solely on the online-enticement law in this jurisdiction,'' said Paul McCabe, an FBI agent and spokesman for the local FBI office, which covers Minnesota and the Dakotas. McCabe added that federal authorities usually go after large-scale online predator cases.

Local authorities also were hard pressed to come up with examples of enticement-only prosecution cases.

Cops have plenty of territory to cover. About 25 million U.S. kids from 10 to 17 years old regularly use the Internet, the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire concluded after analyzing census data. The center surveyed 1,500 youths last year, with 13 percent reporting they received a sexual solicitation and 34 percent saying they had unwanted exposure to sexual material.

In recent years, a handful of online predatory cases involved undercover stings, in which an adult seeking sex with a minor actually met the mark, only to discover it was a cop.

"These cases, other than those in which a meeting actually takes place, are very difficult to prove because sometimes the language can be ambiguous,'' says J. Anthony Torres, a criminal defense lawyer. "But there are occasions where it's clear that the person is 'grooming' the minor in the conversations with the intent of engaging in sex at a future date.''

Brook Schaub, a retired St. Paul cop and former member of the Minnesota Internet Crimes Against Children task force, notes that online enticement statutes can be used as a tool to uncover more serious crimes such as possession or manufacture of kiddie porn or actual criminal-sexual conduct events.

"In my experience, the fleeting chat has mostly led to something else,'' said Schaub, who is also a member of a national team of retired investigators who investigate missing children and online child exploitation cases.

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