Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Web Safety: Hide the Keyboard! Those Tubes'll Kill Ya!

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Posted by Cyndy Aleo-Carreira on February 19th, 2008

It's amazing anyone has the courage to even venture online these days. From web sites to virtual worlds, we are being told to fear those tubes at every turn.

Google went on the terror offensive this past weekend with the fearmongering, releasing a report that told us it isn't just porn sites that may want to install malware on your machine. According to the study, however, it probably isn't intentional on the part of the site owners, who are being hacked because of security holes in THEIR sites, which are then used by the hackers for their own nefarious purposes. Now, one would assume that if Google spent all this time and energy on a survey they'd have some suggestions, right? Their suggestions? Make sure your anti-virus software is up-to-date, and run it often. How clever! Really? How about using something like Firefox and add in a plug-in like NoScript that disables scripts instead of fun with ActiveX? Of course, by just pushing the fear out there, won't that just keep people reliant on using Google's search with their "this site may be a bad, bad site" messages?

Google aren't the only ones out there preaching fear; the U.S. government is also warning of the Dangers of Virtual Worlds, otherwise known as the "OHNOZ! TEH TERRORISTS BE IN SECUND LIFE" campaign. I honestly believe that they speak in LOLcat amongst themselves, because I find it a bit hard to believe that Second Life can be used that readily for money laundering. The casinos are closed, boys, remember? The exchange rate of Linden dollars to USD is so out of whack that any significant amount of money being pushed through there on any sort of regular basis would raise a huge red flag. Or do the terrorists have nothing better to do than sit all day in Second Life, passing out hugs, and moving money around in small increments? Next thing you know, they'll be telling us that the "Save Scrabulous" group on Facebook is really a terrorist recruiting tool.

Of course, the constant fear of social networks being a haven for online predators is regurgitated time and time again by any politician wanting some media time. Too bad none of them will pay any attention to the recent study that most of the grown-ups pretending to be teenagers to solicit sex are working for To Catch a Predator. Apparently, most of the sex offenders who ARE online identify themselves as adults and they aren't going for the young children, but rather, disaffected teens looking for love from a grown-up who understands, unlike their square parents.

In other words, all we hear is fear, fear, fear, with no one actually paying attention to real online concerns, nor teaching the average household what they REALLY need to do in order to keep computers, country, and children safe.

TX - Sex Offender Law

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The Texas State Sex Offender Registry currently has 275 people under the age of 18. But if federal officials have their way, juveniles as young as 14 would all be required to register as sex offenders.

The Adam Walsh Child Protection Child and Safety Act requires all convicted juveniles to be included on a national sex offender registry website. Juveniles could be registered as sex offenders for up to 25 years.

State Representitive Jim McReynolds (Contact) said, "The question is do we treat a 14 year old sex offender the same as we would treat a 40 year sex predator?"
- The age has nothing to do with it. The question should say "Do we treat a sex offender the same as we would treat a sex predator?" NO! Not all sex offenders, regardless of age, should not be lumped into one group and all treated the same. This is like saying all whites are evil and insane because John Wayne Gayce was, or all blacks are murderers because one black man killed someone. Each person should be treated based on their criminal past and the crime committed, period. Not all sex offenders are predators or pedophiles or molesters, which the media and politicians have said so much, people believe it now.

McReynolds says no. He's one of many who believes that's a harsh price for the average juvenile to pay.

Mark Gorman, Chief of Juvenile Services for Angelina County, said "A lot of juveniles commit sexual offenses based on curiousity, impulsiveness, opportunities and those types of things. And from what I do understand and based on what I've studied, adults usually do commit these offenses based on deviant thought and deviant acts."

Currently, sex offender registration in Texas is not automatically required for juveniles. That gives state judges the power to decide their fates.

"If the judge doesn't want to scar or wark the child kid for life. From what i see and hear from this law, then they basically will be forced to do that by the law," said Gorman.
- Someone needs a spell checker to fix these grammar errors. You should not want to ruin anybodies life, regardless of their age. All people should be judged based on their own criminal past, not someone else's, that is just plain wrong!

Judges can see that the child may be low risk at re-offending. And hence not demand that the child be placed in the Texas Registry. Do we take that flexibility away from our judges?" asked McReynolds.
- Easy answer ........ NO!!!!! If you do, why do we even need judges?

The state of Texas has until July 2009 to comply with the new law.
- Or, they do not get millions of grant money, so you see, money, greed, anger and hate is what is driving people to pass these draconian laws, and no law created under these circumstances is ever good...

GA - Lawsuit and Legislative Update

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Dear friends,

We hope this finds you well. We wanted to pass along updates on both the Whitaker v. Perdue lawsuit and HB-908.

Whitaker v. Perdue

On January 30th, we filed Plaintiffs’ Request for Reconsideration of Dismissal of Takings Claims and Entry of Partial Summary Judgment. In this brief, we asked the Court to reconsider its decision to dismiss the Takings Clause claim regarding home owners and renters. Additionally, we asked the Court to grant us summary judgment on the Takings Clause claim, essentially requesting that the Court rule on the constitutionality of that claim immediately.

The Defendants then submitted a Response to our brief asking Judge Cooper to deny our requests. Yesterday, we submitted a Reply Brief in Support of our original request for reconsideration and summary judgment, highlighting why the Defendants’ concerns were misplaced. Both of our briefs will be available on our website www.schr.org by the end of the week.

We do not know when the Court will issue a ruling on the Takings Clause claim. We have expressed to the Court our wish that the Takings Clause issue and the whole case be resolved as expeditiously as possible.


As we mentioned in a previous email, HB-908 passed in the House of Representatives on January 29th. Please click here to view the votes. To view the debate online, click here and then select January 29th on the calendar. The debate on HB-908 starts 37:10 into the webcast. HB-908 will next be heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee, however, we do not know when that hearing will be scheduled.

Articles, Etc.

Below are two editorials regarding Georgia’s sex offender laws that were published last week. The first appeared in the Rome News-Tribune on February 14th and the second in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on February 11th.

As always, we will keep you informed of any updates.

All the best,

Sara, Sarah, Lisa, James, Gerry, Shareef and Mica

IT SOMETIMES seems that the sole purpose for the General Assembly meeting each year is to guarantee full employment for the state’s lawyers.

How else to explain the swift and overwhelming passage by the House, 141-29, of a revised sex-offender law? Given an opportunity by a Georgia Supreme Court decision knocking down one small, limited portion of it to revisit an atrociously written piece of earlier legislation, the House proceeded, if anything, to make it worse (they added libraries to the long list of places that past convicted sex offenders cannot live or work near).

The rewritten measure permits offenders who have established residency and own their property to continue to live there even if something like a day-care center later relocates into their vicinity. Previously, they would have had to move, something the court correctly described as an unconstitutional seizure of property.

However, the earlier bill was littered with known legal problems that were not addressed even though many lawsuits already exist.

Best known is probably the 1,000-foot restriction around school-bus stops, which are everywhere and change locations constantly. Another challenge is to the part that evicts sex offenders because they live near a church. Any number of other attacks upon the measure have been promised and there are certainly plenty of lawyers up to the challenge.

ASSUMING the legislature’s underlying motive is protecting the citizens, and particularly children, there’s nothing wrong with the general intention if it showed any knowledge at all regarding reality. It doesn’t, instead coming across as political grandstanding and posturing without concern as to whether the law might actually work as intended.

Add in that some legislative leaders have made no secret that their true intention is to force every sex offender to leave Georgia because they can’t find a place to live, and real legal trouble is guaranteed. The federal courts long ago made “banishment” illegal as a punishment.

Underlying the whole mess is that the state lumps all past “sex offenders” into a single category even though, plainly, the concern should be focused on repeat predators (who should never have been released from prison in the first place but instead committed to mental treatment facilities).

The bedridden 90-year-old Alzheimer’s patient who once exposed himself, the 18-year-old “rapist” who had sex with the 15-year-old now his wife, and the serial child abuser are all lumped together and treated the same.

And it’s not as though the legislators aren’t aware of this fundamental problem from which most of the trouble stems. Keep a serial child predator away from the bus stop ... sure. Keep the child’s father away from the bus stop because 10 years ago he and the mother had sex without benefit of wedlock ... you’re nuts.

AND, TO MAKE matters worse, it’s not as though Georgia doesn’t have a policy in place to categorize and “rate” sex offenders. It does. It’s in the very same original 2006 bill that’s so stupid and flawed. The problem is, the panel to classify sex offenders is there but the legislature has never appropriated a single penny to put it to work.

Testifying before a House committee before the full body proceeded to make bad matters even worse, Atlanta psychologist James E. Stark, director of a clinic treating both sexual abusers and the sexually abused, warned that the current law simply works to make offenders stop registering and then vanish into the general population.

“We need to know where these people are,” he said. “We don’t need to drive people underground, and if we pass laws that are so draconian, we’re going to drive people underground. ...

“There are some offenders who are God-awful abusers and killers who are abusing people and chopping them up and, my God, those people need to be put away forever. But way over 90 percent of these people can be law-abiding citizens ... 95 percent of the state’s 15,000 registered sex offenders are low risk or moderate risk. We need to be doing different things at those different levels of risk.”

Hitting the nail directly on its grandstanding head, Rep. Roberta Abdul-Salaam, D-Riverdale, commented: “While the legislation makes good press, it doesn’t make good sense.”

GIVEN A MAJORITY of the General Assembly seems to believe it knows more about sexual deviancy than the experts in the field, let’s try to put this into terms they should understand. When it comes to writing laws, our legislators are just like flashers: Fond of showing off something they don’t know how to use.

The state of Georgia doesn't alert neighbors when a convicted arsonist moves into a Cobb County subdivision.

Nor does the state inform the Athens community when a drunken driver convicted for plowing into a car full of teens rents an apartment across from a sorority house.

But when a young man who engaged in sex at age 17 with a willing 15-year-old moves into your area, the state will let you know. The state will also ban that young man from living within 1,000 feet of any place where children congregate, and also prohibit him from working around schools, churches or day care centers.

An overzealous, heavy-handed effort to crack down on sex offenses against children has led the Georgia House of Representatives to pass House Bill 908, a poorly conceived, one-size-fits-all bill that makes no distinction between low-risk sex offenders and serious predators. Now, it's up to the Senate to add reason and balance to this counterproductive piece of legislation.

Under previous state law — tossed out as unconstitutional — all 14,500 Georgians convicted of sex-related offenses faced severe limits on where they could live and work. While only about 40 of those offenders were classified as "dangerous predators," the law provided no exemptions or calibrations based on the nature of the offense. It ended up evicting 82-year-old advanced Alzheimer's patients from hospitals and 18-year-olds from their family homes.

Lawmakers failed to take into account that some offenders committed their crimes as teens and are now law-abiding taxpayers with spotless records. The blanket restrictions forced fathers to leave their homes at night and sleep in their cars elsewhere because their houses are close to a church.

Worse, there's no evidence that these residency buffers protect children. To the contrary, good evidence from other states suggests that such limits cause offenders to stop registering and go underground, leaving police no idea where they live.

During House debate, supporters thundered that Georgia should not coddle child molesters and that forcing them out of their jobs and homes is the price of their sins. Such declarations make great sound bites, but not good policy.

None of the experts on sex crimes or the victims advocates who testified on the bill supported HB-908. Rather, they pleaded with the House to stop treating all sex offenders the same. They complained that in touting residency restrictions as a major deterrent, lawmakers ignored the fact that the state's own data show that 94 percent of child victims of sexual abuse in Georgia knew their abuser.

As the father of a 4-year-old daughter, state Rep. Randal Mangham (D-DeKalb) said, "I am not here to defend one sexual predator ... but we should not be spending tax dollars and using law enforcement to track a 17-year-old all his life for consensual sex with a 15-year-old."

Mica Doctoroff
Southern Center for Human Rights
83 Poplar St.
Atlanta, GA 30303

WA - Fears of Internet predators unfounded, study finds

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WASHINGTON — A lot of parental worries about Internet sex predators are unjustified, according to new research by a leading center that studies crimes against children.

"There's been some overreaction to the new technology, especially when it comes to the danger that strangers represent," said Janis Wolak, a sociologist at the Crimes against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire in Durham.

"Actually, Internet-related sex crimes are a pretty small proportion of sex crimes that adolescents suffer," Wolak added, based on three nationwide surveys conducted by the center.

Two of the surveys contacted 3,000 Internet users aged 10-17 in 2000 and again in 2005. The third sums up findings from 612 interviews with investigators at a nationally representative sample of agencies that deal with Internet sex crimes involving children.

In an article titled "Online 'Predators' and Their Victims," which appears Tuesday in American Psychologist, the journal of the American Psychological Association, Wolak and co-researchers examined several fears that they concluded are myths:

  • Internet predators are driving up child sex crime rates.

    Finding: Sex assaults on teens fell 52 percent from 1993 to 2005, according to the Justice Department's National Crime Victimization Survey, the best measure of U.S. crime trends. "The Internet may not be as risky as a lot of other things that parents do without concern, such as driving kids to the mall and leaving them there for two hours," Wolak said.

  • Internet predators are pedophiles.

    Finding: Internet predators don't hit on the prepubescent children whom pedophiles target. They target adolescents, who have more access to computers, more privacy and more interest in sex and romance, Wolak's team determined from interviews with investigators.

  • Internet predators represent a new dimension of child sexual abuse.

    Finding: The means of communication is new, according to Wolak, but most Internet-linked offenses are essentially statutory rape: nonforcible sex crimes against minors too young to consent to sexual relationships with adults.

  • Internet predators trick or abduct their victims.

    Finding: Most victims meet online offenders face-to-face and go to those meetings expecting to engage in sex. Nearly three-quarters have sex with partners they met on the Internet more than once.

  • Internet predators meet their victims by posing online as other teens.

    Finding: Only 5 percent of predators did that, according to the survey of investigators.

  • Online interactions with strangers are risky.

    Finding: Many teens interact online all the time with people they don't know. What's risky, according to Wolak, is giving out names, phone numbers and pictures to strangers and talking online with them about sex.

  • Internet predators go after any child.

    Finding: Usually their targets are adolescent girls or adolescent boys of uncertain sexual orientation, according to Wolak. Youths with histories of sexual abuse, sexual orientation concerns and patterns of off- and online risk-taking are especially at risk.


For more research by the University of New Hampshire's Crimes against Children Research Center, go to www.unh.edu/ccrc/

For tips for parents, go to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at www.missingkids.com.