53rd Senate District
George H. Winner, Jr.
George H. Winner, Jr.
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The new Senate report is a call-to-arms on Internet safety.

"Itís beyond the Wild West out there. Youíve really taken away the age of innocence."

These statements were made by a pediatrician in a recent national news report on a study, published in Pediatrics magazine, that concluded that more and more children and teens are being exposed to online pornography. The study revealed that 42% of Internet users aged 10 to 17 had been exposed to a sexually explicit Web site.

The comments are startling and unsettling, "Youíve really taken away the age of innocence."

It becomes even more disturbing in light of a statistic revealed by a New York State State Trooper at a recent meeting on Internet safety at Haverling High School in Bath: that 95 to 97 percent of sexual predators make their first contact with victims online.

The Internet undeniably impacts todayís society in fundamental and far-reaching ways. Itís a huge economic engine. It can be a powerful and meaningful tool for education. It has made our lives more cost- and time-effective. Itís driving changes in the world of music and entertainment. Itís transforming the practice of government, politics and the mass media, to name just a few.

Is it also taking away the age of innocence? Weíre wise to take the question very seriously. Itís a question, in particular, that must be taken seriously in our homes, where past studies have shown that the number of teenagers using the Internet has increased by nearly 25% in the last four years. Nearly 90% of young people between the ages of 12 and 17 are familiar with going online, and their Internet use continues to intensify and broaden.

My colleagues and I are taking the issue very seriously.  In fact we've recently issued
a new report, , and called for the enactment of a series of legislative proposals to combat an alarming increase in cases of child pornography and child sexual abuse, fueled in large measure by the continued rise of the Internet.

The Internet is an incredibly powerful technology -- for good, and for evil. Our goal is to fight back against some of the worst of what our society offers online.

"Protecting Children in the Internet Age" highlights the spread of child pornography, now estimated to be a $2- to $3-billion-a-year industry. The possession or distribution of child pornography is illegal under federal law and in all 50 states, but many researchers and law enforcement authorities have noted an alarming increase in these crimes largely resulting from the rapid growth in the use of the Internet and modern technologies.

In response, we've pledged this session to seek the enactment of a wide array of aggressive measures designed to protect children from Internet predators, child pornography and child sexual abuse. Among many other initiatives, the new report recommends the approval of legislation to:

> toughen criminal penalties for promoting child prostitution or producing child pornography;

> crack down on child sexual predators in Internet chat rooms;

> establish harsher penalties for predators who use computers to commit sex offenses;

> support more training for law enforcement agents in the area of computer child exploitation;

> strengthen the stateís Sex Offender Registry; and

> establish Internet Service Provider Warnings.

The report also highlights the strong link between those who possess child pornography and individuals who sexually abuse children. Because of this strong link Ė and because the conviction rate for child pornography possession is nearly 100 percent Ė the report emphasizes the importance of cracking down on child pornography as a critical part of any overall strategy to keep children safe from sexual offenses.

So I applaud every effort to promote safety in todayís "online" society -- particularly for our children and young people. Itís important to keep in mind that parents are the first line of defense when it comes to online computer safety.

Where can a parent turn for help? There are a few organizations that stand out, and I wouldnít hesitate to recommend them. One is the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). The  offers an impressive array of child safety information, including information specifically related to online computer safety.

Another place to turn is the Federal Bureau of Investigation, whose  includes an online version of a publication called "A Parentís Guide to Internet Safety." This brochure includes safety tips for parents such as keeping the home computer in a common room, utilizing parental controls provided by the Internet service provider, always maintaining access to your child's online account, and instructing your children to never arrange a face-to-face meeting with someone they met online.

As well, Iím glad to offer computer safety information through my own offices. Iíve been fortunate to join my legislative colleagues in New York State to enact comprehensive child protection laws, including laws that make it easier to prosecute Internet predators. Some of the new laws that will be considered during the current legislative session include one measure to create new felony crimes against the use of computers to commit sexual offenses against children

But as it goes with so many of our challenges -- from the war on drugs to the war against terrorism -- public awareness, education and involvement are critical to success.

In the case of online computer safety, an informed adult is a childís most powerful protector. Click below on CONTACT INFO to request a copy of a popular Senate brochure "Online Computer Safety." This publication includes helpful hints for parents in establishing online rules and to spot the warning signs that a child might be at-risk. It also provides a list of "Rules for Online Safety" that can be clipped and kept near the home computer. At the very least, itís a good starting point for becoming better informed.


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