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Officials focus on Internet use in sex crimes

Stephen Simmons In this story:

October 8, 1997
Web posted at: 10:09 p.m. EDT (0209 GMT)

From Correspondent Brian Jenkins

NEW YORK (CNN) -- The people of Ocean County, New Jersey, were shaken last week to learn that police had arrested a 15-year-old for the rape and killing of an 11-year-old boy.

Then they learned the accused was the apparent victim of several sexual encounters with a 43-year-old New York man he met on the Internet.

In Chamblee, Georgia, a 40-year-old car dealer was charged Tuesday with raping a 13-year-old girl he befriended during online chat sessions.

Police say Michael Shipman, claiming to be 17, initiated a chat friendship with the girl and got her address. Posing as a repairman, investigators say he attacked her in her home twice, raping her the second time.

Detectives tracked Shipman down using records provided by America Online, the computer online service.

Horror stories such as these have prompted New York Attorney General Dennis Vacco to invite his counterparts from all 50 states to meet in Manhattan next month. His intention is to form a task force to focus on crimes in which the Internet has been used to gain access to victims, particularly young victims.

Database, communication link sought


"Our goal," Vacco said, "is to expand the knowledge base so that investigators and prosecutors around the nation know how to do this, to establish a nationwide database and establish a nationwide communication link."

In April, FBI director Louis Freeh told a Senate subcommittee hearing that his agency had a list of 4,000 people suspected of being pedophiles or child pornographers who use the anonymity of the Internet to contact their victims.

The Tucson Police Department has already established a Web site listing known sexual offenders living in the area.

But Howard Sherman, the senior online editor of Yahoo! Internet Life magazine, says that many parents don't have the time to check such listings.

And he says that while software programs like Cyberpatrol and Net Nanny can help block children's access to adult websites, they are not foolproof.

"Sometimes there's confusion about words," Sherman says. "The word 'breast' may be perfectly reasonable if you're going to a site about breast cancer, but not if you're going to a site that's pornographic."

Parental guidance advised

A New York school librarian discovered that her 13-year-old daughter had sneaked some racy material into their family computer.

"She allowed as how all these pornographic files were stored in the hard drive," says Claire Copley-Eisenberg. "She had made them invisible, which is something I didn't even know you could do."

The 13-year-old daughter of another New York woman, Sally Tannen, got a call last year from a boy she'd just "met" in an online chat room. She told her parents, and her father took the next call, during which the boy admitted he was 18 and in college.

"And that was the end of it," Tannen said. "I think it scared my daughter enough to see us upset, and also to realize what could happen."

The lesson these parents have learned is you can't watch children 'round the clock, but you can talk to them about the danger of chatting with strangers on the Internet.


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