When I heard that the topic of last Monday's Oprah Show (Sept. 15) would be Internet predators, I was expecting a story about how sexual predators have lured victims to a meeting over the Internet.
What Oprah presented instead was the connection between the Internet and the reality that most child rapists are people known to their victims who don't need to use the Internet to gain access to their victims. Some of these predators prey on their own children or on the children of relatives and friends.
This focus is much scarier for many parents than if the subject were the Internet predator who needs to lure the child to an in-person meeting. The reason this is scarier is that parents can monitor their child's computer usage for signs that a predator is after their child. Child-centered prevention can keep these predators from gaining access. No computer access for the child equals no danger from this type of Internet sexual predators. This is the online version of stranger danger where safety comes from avoiding all strangers.
For the type of predator Oprah focused on, child-centered prevention isn't as easy as eliminating Internet access or monitoring the child's computer access.
These Internet predators don't use the Internet to contact their potential victims. They instead use the Internet as a swap meet, a learning medium and a place to meet people with the same belief system.
Highlighted on this show was the reality that one of the reasons some of these predators offend against very young children has nothing to do with pedophilia, but is instead related to the fact that the youngest victims can't disclose abuse or if they can disclose abuse the children may be considered too young to be credible witnesses or too young to withstand cross examination.
From my time as a volunteer victim advocate, young victims' testimony was a huge issue and a reason many cases of child rape ended in plea deals or dropped charges that left nobody but the defense team and defendant happy.
For these Internet sexual predators the Internet is where they do their social networking with other sexual predators. These criminals have taken the concept of community and twisted it to meet their own criminal wants and needs.
These social sexual predators use the Internet as a swap meet for the photo and video evidence of the crimes committed by these predators. Not only is this evidence of child rape exchanged, so too are helpful tips for how to get away with these crimes.
The tips which were described on this show were disgusting but they also showed clear premeditation and calculation on the part of sexual predators which goes directly against the idea that this type of crime is rooted in hormonal urges.
Many of these predators are determined, but determination is not the same thing as being out of control or suffering from an addiction.
A case highlighted on this episode involved a man who committed sex crimes against girls when his daughter was having sleepovers. He slipped drugs into the girls drinks and assaulted them when they were unconscious. He posed as a diligent adult looking out for the welfare of his daughter and her friends. His MO is completely overlooked in warnings about date rape drugs. He wasn't a date and he wasn't spiking alcoholic beverages.
Oprah asked viewers to go to www.senate.gov to get contact information for their US senators so that you can urge them to vote for US Senate Bill 1738—The PROTECT Our Children Act.
Whenever there is any bill which will catch more criminals money is an issue. And money should be an issue. But if the US can afford to invade Iraq and can afford to bail out financial institutions, money is not the barrier. Lack of priority is.
If investigators see evidence of a child being raped how important is it for the police to have the resources they need to go after that predator so that we know that rape will not be repeated and the victim will get the help she or he needs?
For many politicians sexual violence gets dismissed as a women's issue rather than being elevated as a human rights issue. Despite the commonness of rape against children most people will at least claim that children have the right not to be raped.
But are we going to do enough to make sure that this right is protected to the best of our ability? Are we going to get bogged down because some children seen in child porn cooperate and that makes the original crime be seen by some people as not one of personal violence but a mere statutory violation?
For anyone who will be contacting your US senator, also do a Google search on your state's statute of limitations for rape/sexual assault and other sex crimes. What is the statute of limitations if the victim is 5? How about 15? 19?
If investigators funded under this bill find victims willing to testify and they find visual evidence that backs up that testimony, it would be an injustice if some or all of those original crimes cannot be prosecuted because the statute of limitations has expired.
There are many rationalizations for not eliminating the statute of limitations for rape. Most of those are only concerned about the defendant and ignore the victims and public safety. Whether a rape is prosecuted in days or in decades the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt remains on the prosecution.
For those concerned about how this bill will impact prison overcrowding and sex offender management, demand that federal money also be allocated for preventing rape attempts and for helping young victims recognize when what has been done to them is a crime.
Leaving prevention to parents sounds good. But many parents are unqualified prevention educators and other parents are the one's committing sex crimes against their children or stepchildren.
Life for both victims and perpetrators would be better if those crimes were not attempted in the first place. We may never be able to eliminate all sex crime attempts but we can eliminate claims of ignorance about the difference between fully consensual sex between those capable of consenting and rape.