Newsletter - Winter 2009


Stop Child Predators
Advisory Board

Mark Lunsford
Chairman

Joanna Acocella
Vice President of Federal Relations at Apollo Group, Inc.

Meryl Chertoff
Legislative relations professional, attorney and community volunteer

Viet Dinh
Georgetown University Professor of Law and former Assistant Attorney General for Legal Policy at U.S. Department of Justice

Brian Jones
Senior Counsel at Dow Lohnes

Roderick R. Paige, Ed.D.
Former U.S. Secretary of Education
(2001-2005)

Executive Team

Cary Katz
Chairman

Stacie Rumenap
President

Lizette B. Herraiz
Counsel

John Falb
Treasurer & Member of the Board

ORGANIZATION ACTIVITIES

Message from the President


Dear Friends:

October marks National Cyber Security Awareness Month. The success of this month rests on all of us doing what we can to engage in awareness activities throughout October, and all year round. Stop Child Predators (SCP) is helping educate students, parents and communities about online safety.

Just last month, SCP hosted two dozen child advocates at Shaw University in Raleigh, NC, where participants shared anecdotes about cyberbullying, sexting and other online issues facing today’s teens. Participants included Monika Johnson Hostler, Executive Director of the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault, Caroline Farmer of the North Carolina Department of Justice, Marguerite Peebles, Section Chief of the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, and North Carolina State Senator Josh Stein, who agreed, that in today’s digital world, parents have less time to supervise their kids’ behavior; and, parents need to know more about emerging technologies and the online dangers teens face.

Some technologies, like the “Offender Locator,” an application available through Apple’s iPhone, assists parents in remotely locating information about registered sex offenders. The application allows users to see a list of registered sex offenders based on their current location (using the iPhone’s location services), any contact’s address, or a manually entered address. Users can click on any of the names to get a picture of the person and personal information such as age and physical characteristics. In some instances, you can also see the specific sexual crime for which they were charged.

Other technologies need to be better safeguarded, according to Shaw participants, who also agreed parents need to keep up with potential risks associated with emerging technologies. Consider Apple’s iPhone application “WhosHere” that allows users from around the world to chat, swap photos and make plans to meet in person. Seems like a good conduit for two consenting adults who want to meet. But considering the application also allows users to search one another by age, gender, and interests, and provides the proximity between users, the phone can become a dangerous weapon when a child predator misuses the application to find a child. 

The group also discussed the findings from a recent Common Sense Media survey that examined how social networking and other Internet usage are affecting today’s teens. Not surprisingly, the survey found that teens are more active online than most parents realize, and many teens have posted information that they later regretted. Read more about the survey’s findings in the pages to come. 

Shaw participants concluded that communication and socialization in our kids’ world is increasingly moving from face-to-face to cyberspace, and parents vastly underestimate the capabilities of new technologies. They agreed that in today’s digital world, parents need to play a more important role than ever in ensuring that our kids get the best of these technologies and are using them safely.

Resources are available at www.netsmartz411.org from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Experts also offered these tips:

  • Education, communication and monitoring are key to keeping children safe online. Find out what your kids are learning about cybersafety in school and during after-school programs; after all, teens are learning differently in today’s digital world and collaboration among parents, schools and corporations who create and sell technology is essential. Place the family computer in a common area in your house and use family safety software so you can restrict the websites your children visit, monitor who they contact, and limit the time they spend online. 
  • Remember that the Internet can be accessed through devices like cell phones and gaming consuls, not just the computer. Talk to your teens about the consequences of cyberbullying and sexting, and remind them never to meet someone in person that they’ve only become “friends” with online. Remember, it’s okay to check your child’s cell phone for content and to know what applications they’ve installed.
  • Make sure your children know they should never share personal information online, including their address, phone number, social security number, school or when they will be on vacation. Remind them when they’re posting photos not to include identifiers like school logos, and don’t create email and instant message addresses that include their name.

Thank you to all our North Carolina partners and participants. We look forward to working with you in the months ahead. As always, if you have any questions or comments you would like to share, you can reach me at srumenap@stopchildpredators.org.

Stacie Rumenap

Child Advocates Push Jessica's Law in the Garden State

Four years ago, 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford was brutally molested and murdered after being abducted from her Florida home by a convicted sex offender. The terrible crime committed against Jessica prompted states to pass tougher laws against sex offenders. State legislators across the country have been seeking additional protection and tougher punishment against those who perpetrate sexual crimes in a best-efforts push to stop criminals like the one who attacked Jessica Lunsford.

And the efforts continue. In Trenton, New Jersey, state advocacy organization New Jersey Family First is hoping to add its home state to the growing list of those pushing for stricter sentences for criminals who commit sex crimes against children.

The measure, known as “Jessica’s Law,” has passed in 42 states, and is in its third incarnation in New Jersey (A1719). The measure has 63 sponsors, and support from more than 75 percent of the General Assembly. 

Last legislative session, Stop Child Predators’ (SCP) Stacie Rumenap and New Jersey Family First’s Gregory Quinlan, who serves as the group’s governmental affairs director, testified before the Assembly Judiciary Committee. They emphasized to the Committee that changes to the state’s existing child sex laws can prevent another child from enduring the fate of Jessica Lunsford.

“We are the ninth largest state but have no version of the Jessica Lunsford Act,” Quinlan told members of the Judiciary Committee. “If our lawmakers won’t protect our little ones from the worst among us, those who prey on our children, then who will,” he asked.

“The majority of sex offenders are not in prison, putting our children and families in danger every day. When sex offenders do spend time in jail, they serve too short of sentences, and repeat their crimes when released,” Rumenap said.

New Jersey’s Jessica’s Law would impose a mandatory term of 25 years imprisonment for certain sex offenses and for those persons who harbor or conceal sex offenders.

Earlier versions of the bill also included stricter monitoring of criminals who commit sex offenses against children.
 
New Jersey’s parole board released a study in December 2007 concluding that the state’s electronic monitoring “has contributed to a lower recidivism rate than nationwide data indicates for high-risk sex offenders.” Since August 2005, the state has tried out round-the-clock GPS monitoring on 225 of its most dangerous registered sex offenders under parole. Under GPS supervision, only one offender—of 225—has been charged with a new sex crime. Because the offender was wearing an electronic monitoring device, he was caught at the scene of the new crime.

New Jersey’s experience shows that electronic monitoring helps catch repeat perpetrators and deters the commission of sex crimes in the first place.

New Jersey Family First is the legislative action arm of the New Jersey Family Policy Council and is the lead advocacy organization pushing for Jessica’s Law in New Jersey. Jessica’s Law is named after 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford. Her father, Mark Lunsford, chairs SCP’s advisory board and is the driving force behind the passage of Jessica’s Law. 


New York Legislation Brings Megan's Law into the Digital Age

The New York state legislature passed a bill that provides a statewide website for which parents can sign up to receive instant email alerts when a level two or level three sex offender moves into their neighborhood. This new legislation brings Megan’s Law into the digital age, according to New York State Senator Jeff Klein who sponsored the bill. 

Fortunately for New Yorkers, Parents for Megan’s Law—a community and victim’s rights organization dedicated to the prevention and treatment of sexual abuse—already provides this information to anyone who signs up to receive such alerts. They also include information about level one sex offenders.

And while there may be some redundancy, Stop Child Predators agrees with New York State Senator Brian Foley that “Even if there is an element of redundancy, I can’t think of a better place to have some…”

The legislation has yet to be signed into law but parents can still use the free service provided by Parents for Megan’s Law.


State Initiatives Target Teens to Promote Online Safety, Responsibility

Start Strong Idaho, a collaborative effort between health care providers, the Idaho Department of Education and the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual & Domestic Violence is promoting healthy relationships among teens by teaching 7th and 8th grade students about the importance of preventing teen violence and responsible cell phone use (79 percent of teenagers aged 13 to 19 have mobile devices, as reported by Stop Child Predators earlier this year). The Idaho program includes curriculum to promote healthy relationships as well as training for students. This new program will provide educational materials to 141 middle and junior high schools throughout 18 counties in Southwest Idaho.

The Idaho program was launched, in part, after the results of the November 2007 Idaho Youth Risk Behavior survey were released that found 13 percent of Idaho high school students were hit, slapped or physically hurt by their boyfriend or girlfriend during the previous year, and 11 percent were forced to have unwanted sex. Sexting, the practice of sending sexually explicit photos or messages over cell phones, was also found to be a problem among teens, both nationally and in Southwest Idaho, according to the study. While many school districts in the area prohibit cell phone use during school hours, school officials remain concerned about sexting taking place outside of the school day.

In Houston, Texas, sexting was banned altogether just before schools opened their doors this fall by the Texas school district, one of the largest in the nation. The Dallas-Fort Worth district followed suit. A recent study by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy found that 22% of teenage girls have sent messages or posted images or videos online showing them nude or semi-nude. For boys, the rate is 18%. The same report said that in some cases, criminal charges have resulted. In others, suicide followed the humiliation of the viral spread of the photos.

Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum introduced safety awareness programs into Florida schools in 2007. In the past two years, 23,000 students across the state have received presentations on teen safety. In August, Stop Child Predators joined Attorney General McCollum and the Orange County PTA to talk to Orlando parents about the dangers children face in the digital world and how communities and families can best be educated about these threats.

For more information concerning the initiatives in your state, or if you would like Stop Child Predators' assistance in drafting, testifying for, or supporting legislation in your state, please visit our website at http://www.stopchildpredators.org and/or call us at (202) 248-7052.