TALLAHASSEE, FL – LAWFUEL – Law Newswire – Attorney General Bill McCollum today praised both the House and Senate for passing the CyberCrimes Against Children Act of
2007 (SB 1004), a measure that toughens penalties for those who use the internet to sexually prey on children. This bill now positions Florida as a national leader in the legal fight against child pornography and internet solicitation of children. The new legislation increases penalties for the possession or distribution of child pornography online and creates a new, separate penalty against internet predators who communicate with a child online and then travel to meet that child for the specific purpose of further sexually abusing him or her.
“I applaud the members of the Senate and the House of Representatives for unanimously passing this legislation, demonstrating their dedication to protecting our children from these terrible crimes,” said Attorney General McCollum. “This legislation will allow law enforcement to put these individuals where they belong – behind bars and away from our children. My sincere appreciation goes to Senate President Ken Pruitt and Speaker of the House Marco Rubio for their leadership and their commitment to this important issue.”
The legislation was sponsored by Senator Nancy Argenziano
(R-Dunnellon) and Representative David Rivera (R-Miami). “As elected officials, our reason for being here is to protect our citizens, especially our children. This legislation puts a huge stop sign at the Florida line for those who would prey upon our children,” said Senator Nancy Argenziano.
House sponsor Representative David Rivera added “Child pornography is not a victimless crime. With the passage of this bill, those who sexually abuse children and put those images on the internet will be punished and punished severely.”
Attorney General McCollum was joined today by members of his Child Predator CyberCrime Unit. The six-member team works to protect children from computer-facilitated sexual exploitation by working cooperatively with statewide law enforcement agencies and prosecutors to provide resources and expertise.
“The unit now, and even more so with this new legislation, is a valuable asset to all members of law enforcement and the citizens of Florida,” said Attorney General McCollum. “The next step in this fight against online child predators is the critical expansion of the Child Predator CyberCrime Unit statewide.” The Attorney General’s budget request for expanding the size of the unit by 50 was also recommended by the Governor and has received strong support from both House and Senate budget leaders.
Leon County Sheriff and President of the Florida Sheriffs Association Larry Campbell stood with the Attorney General in support of the new legislation and the Child Predator CyberCrime unit. “I commend Attorney General McCollum for his ambitious and dedicated efforts in the fight against these vile individuals who exploit Florida’s children,” said Sheriff Campbell. “Our sheriffs around the state work very closely with members of the Child Predator CyberCrime Unit in Jacksonville. Sheriffs and other state and local law enforcement agencies are seeing an exponential increase in these heinous crimes. Attorney General McCollum’s CyberCrime Unit is a bold and effective step in the fight against child pornography and exploitation.”
In less than two years, the unit has facilitated the arrests of 40 individuals who created, possessed or distributed child pornography, or who sexually solicited children online and traveled to meet them. The budget increase of 50 staff members would expand the Child Predator CyberCrime Unit all around the state.
“As a former sheriff I have seen first hand the damage that sexual predators can do to our children,” said Representative Charlie Dean (R-Inverness). “This legislation will give law enforcement the vital tools they need to track down these individuals who prey upon our children using the internet.”
In addition to increasing the penalties for the possession and distribution of child pornography and for those who travel to meet children, the legislation also increases penalties for offenders who misrepresent their age to seduce a child over the internet. This behavior, known as “grooming,” is intended to make a child believe the offender is closer in age to the child, therefore encouraging the child to feel more comfortable conversing with the offender. The new legislation gives the Attorney General’s Office of Statewide Prosecution jurisdiction to prosecute child pornography and internet child sexual abuse cases.
Currently, more than 77 million children regularly use the internet and statistics on child pornography are alarming. According to the Federal Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, Florida ranks fourth in the nation in volume of child pornography. Nationally, one in seven children between the ages of ten and 17 has been solicited online by a sexual predator. The CyberCrimes Against Children Act will require all registered sex offender to register their email addresses and chat room screen names with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. With this information, online social networks, including the popular website MySpace, will be able to coordinate with Florida authorities to ensure that the registered offenders are not able to join or use these online social networks. The CyberCrimes Against Children Act now heads to Governor Charlie Crist for his consideration.
In addition to the passage of the new legislation, Attorney General McCollum also announced the next step in his CyberCrime outreach program.
Joined by Duval County Sheriff John Rutherford, the Attorney General announced that his office had launched a direct mail campaign, sending out 94,000 mail cards which will go to every house with a teenager or a child in Duval County. The Attorney General’s Office partnered with the Duval County Sheriff’s Office and Money Pages of Florida, Inc. in the direct mail campaign.
The cards specifically designed to catch teenagers’ attention, are intended to empower young Floridians with the information necessary to make smart choices on the internet and encourage them to ask for help if they need it. Attorney General McCollum and Sheriff Rutherford were joined by numerous sheriffs representing the Florida Sheriffs Association, who in addition to supporting the expansion of the CyberCrime Unit, also expressed interest in participating in programs similar to the Jacksonville pilot program.
Copies of the mailers are available online at http://safeflorida.net/safesurf.