February 7, 2007
State Police Call for Tougher Internet Predator Laws
By Phil Kabler
9 a.m. Economic Development Committee
10 a.m. Transportation and Infrastructure Committee
11 a.m. Senate floor session
2 p.m. Education and Banking and Insurance committees
3 p.m. Judiciary and Finance committees
9 a.m. Education Committee
11 a.m. House floor session
West Virginia needs tougher laws to crack down on Internet predators, the head of the State Police Internet Crimes Against Children unit told a Senate committee Monday.
Sgt. Christopher Casto told the Senate Judiciary Committee that efforts should include mandatory Internet safety education in public schools, and broader laws prohibiting sexually explicit content involving children on the Internet.
Casto said the state should take steps to make it illegal to operate or view so-called "pre-teen erotic modeling" sites on the Internet.
The sites get around current legal definitions of pornography, which requires the exhibition of genitals in a sexual context. On the pre-teen sites, he said, the models are clothed in swimsuits or lingerie.
Under the proposed legislation, "lascivious" child erotica would fall under child pornography statues.
"We're talking about kids who are posing in sexually provocative ways," he said.
To child sexual predators, the modeling sites are as provocative as more hardcore pornography. "We believe it's just as bad as child pornography," Casto said.
He said the State Police is also backing mandatory Internet safety education legislation, based on a 2006 Virginia law.
Casto showed a demonstration of how a child using an otherwise innocent Internet chat room could be targeted by a sexual predator.
From the time of the first contact in the chat room, a predator could determine the child's full name, home address, phone number, school and other information - all using common Internet search engines, and all within 20 minutes.
Casto said the State Police ICAC unit, which includes 11 troopers working part-time on Internet crimes, has investigated nearly 800 alleged crimes since it started less than a year ago.
In January alone, the ICAC was notified of more than 800 "hits" on known child pornography Web sites by Internet users in West Virginia, he said.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, said Monday he would appoint a subcommittee to review the legislation recommended by the State Police.
To contact staff writer Phil Kabler, use e-mail or call 348- 1220.
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