Virginia’s Attorney General Bob McDonnell compiled a “rock star lineup” to investigate ways to protect Internet users and prosecute online criminals. The result, is a 100+ page report full of recommendations based on five meetings of three different groups — The Law Enforcement Working Group, The Parents/Educators Working Group, and The Technology Partners Working Group. Most of the changes suggested consist of strengthening laws regarding access to child pornography and toughening punishments for those caught soliciting minors online. A few pertain to creating educational materials for children and parents about how to be safe online (one of the suggestions is to create a fun video game to teach kids about internet safety — do these ever work?).
Overall, the report is filled with every message one would expect, with no additional surprises: The Internet is dangerous, we must find a way to stop predators, we must rise to the challenge to save our children. There are also several statistics quoted in the report: some are cited, some are not. One that is cited is the infamous “one in five children is sexually solicited online” from the UNH report of 2000; that number has decreased to 1 in 7 in 2005. One that has no reference, other than United States Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, is “There are as many as 50,000 predators online trolling for child sex victims at any given time.” I have no idea where that number came from or how it was derived.
Many people participated in the Task Force — judges, law makers, teachers, parents, even teens. But two groups not represented were psychologists and researchers. I wish they were invited to the table to provide a better balance of voice. I think this is a topic worth addressing, but it should be investigated not only with policy in mind, but also a true understanding of what is going on. So little is known about cyberspace when it comes to sex and even less is known about the active role children are playing in it. The fact that the Task Force did not invite people who may have insight into this aspect of the problem either shows that those in charge are completely unaware of this aspect of the issue or are trying to deny it.