Commentary: Surfing the Web safely a priority for Wisconsin kids
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 prote...
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 MySpace and Facebook, and even online gaming networks like X-Box Live.
Child pornographers have invaded the Internet in many forms. Commercial Web sites, often located abroad, 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 chat through text messaging that used to take place only in Internet chat rooms. Often, predators use cell phones after meeting children online.
Predators also use file sharing programs like LimeWire, which many parents believe are just used for music. We have identified about 15,000 separate computers in our state that possess and offer to distribute this filth.
Nationally, the story is no different. Statistics kept by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) illustrate the scope of the problem:
Since 1992, for example, NCMEC's Child Recognition and Identification System (CRIS) has reviewed more than 15 million child pornography images and movies seized by law enforcement.
Since 1998, NCMEC's Cyber Tipline has received more than 600,000 reports of suspected online child exploitation taking place around the country, including some one-thousand tips referred to our 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 Buttner, N.C. Researchers indicated that of about 200 federal inmates convicted of Internet child pornography crimes, some 89 percent admitted to molesting children as well.
The Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force of my office's Division of Criminal Investigation is dedicated to identifying and arresting those predators. Since 1998, the task force has arrested more than 600 offenders and executed more than 800 search warrants. To help prevent kids from becoming victims, and to help parents, teachers, and child welfare advocates better protect kids, we have educated more than 160,000 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.
At my request, in its last budget, the state legislature funded two additional Special Agent positions for our task force, as well as three new forensic computer analyst positions. Those specialists perform the critical task of finding and analyzing digital evidence, sometimes right after agents seize it. This teamwork often allows us to take the predator into custody literally within an hour from the time a search warrant is executed.
Our criminal investigation professionals partner with a growing list of local law enforcement agencies throughout the state. We now have 55 task force affiliates throughout the state, more than doubling our partnerships since 2006. 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 Internet predators take note. My commitment is unceasing. We will identify you, arrest you, and take you off the street; we will follow you to every area of the Internet, no matter where you try to hide; and we will work together in law enforcement to stay one step ahead of you.