FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - McCracken County Sheriff Jon Hayden said
his area found out the harsh reality that child predators can strike anywhere, showing that the state needs to toughen laws to prevent them from pursuing youngsters online.
Hayden joined Attorney General Jack Conway, prosecutors and
other law enforcement officers Wednesday in promoting a bill to strengthen the fight against online predators. The measure later cleared its first hurdle by winning approval from the House Judiciary Committee.
The western Kentucky sheriff said some people think such crimes
are limited to big cities, but one incident in his area showed it can happen anywhere. He said a teenage girl was raped last year, allegedly by an adult man she met on the Internet.
"This is a terrible problem," Hayden said at a news conference
before the committee vote. "It reaches all corners of the commonwealth."
Conway said that along with all its advantages, the Internet can also be "a tool for crime." He cited statistics showing that one in seven children report being solicited online for sex by adults.
"We recognize that the law lags technology," he said.
Louisville Metro Police Lt. Tom Dreher, commander of the department's Crimes Against Children's Unit, said his unit has seen an increase in Internet crimes against children. He said some perpetrators told officials they chose Kentucky because its laws against online child predators aren't as strong as some other states.
Rep. Johnny Bell, D-Glasgow, the bill's lead sponsor, called it "a strong movement forward in protecting the youth of our commonwealth."
The bill would allow law enforcement to use specially trained decoys for online stings. It would make it a crime to solicit anyone who the person believes is a minor.
Another provision would prohibit registered sex offenders from
using social-networking Web sites such as MySpace and Facebook. The
bill also would require sex offenders to notify the sex offender registry whenever they change their e-mail addresses.
The bill also amends the state's stalking statute to include cyberstalking.
It also would allow police to seize personal property such as a
computer or car that was used in committing online sexual offenses
During the committee hearing, Rep. Greg Stumbo - Conway's
predecessor as attorney general - said the measure would strengthen
the ability of law enforcement to crack down on Internet child predators. During Stumbo's tenure, the attorney general's office was involved in three Internet sting operations across the state.
"This is a wonderful step forward," Stumbo said of the bill.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)