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The hunt for online sexual predators

by Hilary Powell
Oct 03, 2007


Parents in Illinois might want to send Attorney General Lisa Madigan a thank you email.

On Aug. 31, her office announced the arrest of a  Granite City man  whose name appeared on a list of registered sex offenders provided by MySpace. The online social networking was  responding to subpoenas from Madigan and 30 other state attorneys general for the names of  sex offenders who were suspected of using MySpace to contact young potential victims.

The man  was charged with one count of solicitation of child pornography and oher and other offenses.  

  
But there may not be enough being done to deter sexual predators not registered for committing crimes, says Parry Aftab, executive director of .WiredSafety.org, a group promoting  online safety and awareness.
 
“In my experiences most of the men who are preying on kids are not registered sex offenders,” she said. “It’s a much, much larger group unfortunately.”
 
In December 2006, MySpace announced it would partner with Sentinel Tech Holding, a security group, to help pinpoint registered sex offenders signing on to MySpace.
 
That effort found thousands of known sex offenders confirmed as MySpace members, according to a statement issued last May  by the State Attorneys General from eight states.
  
As part of the growing vigilance in this area, Aftab cited a group called Teenangels, a group of tech-savvy teens who raise awareness about on-line safety. 
  
Nationwide, about 480 Teenangel are trained law enforcement and safety experts for one year to earn their wings, Aftab says.
 
The angels use video simulations, blogs , and, of course, their online social network groups to spread the gospel about how predators are often not what they seem online.
 
“The problem with the sex offender registry is that people who are smart enough are not going use their real name and a photo of their mugshot online,” Aftab said. “These networks are free and provide anonymity to their members.”
 
 
MySpace has a safety tips page on its  website warning teens to avoid meeting their online friends in the physical world.
 
“If you decide to meet someone you’ve met on MySpace, tell your parents first, do it in a public place, and bring a trusted adult,” the website says.
 
The Illinois Attorney General’s office says it is  taking steps  to combat sexual predators, registered or not.
 
“Child predators who think they are safe hiding behind a computer screen are no longer anonymous,” Madigan said in a statement. “We have the technology and we are committed to using all of our resources to seek them out an hold them accountable for their crimes.”