Cuomo Bill Closes Child Porn Loophole
An agreement hammered out last week by Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature will make viewing online child pornography a felony, punishable by up to 12 years in prison.
The bill closes a loophole that prohibited law enforcement from charging child predators with possession of the content of child porn accessed on a Web site. The new bill eliminates that technicality and allows police to charge anyone who intentionally accesses a child porn site with a felony.
The measure goes a long way to reign in Internet child predators, law enforcement sources said. But there is still an urgent need for legislation that would make it illegal for anyone to engage in sexually explicit conversation with a child, they said.
Under current law, it is not illegal for any person to speak, suggest or act-out sexual situations with another person over the Internet, even if they believe the other person is a child. Current laws mandate that any such charges would be an infringement of the individual’s right to freedom of speech.
However, it is illegal for an adult to arrange to meet with a person he believes is a minor (under the age of 17), for the purpose of sexual contact. The adult must suggest the sexual contact for the act to be considered a crime, law enforcement sources said. And until legislators act to amend the law, police are forced to track down child sexual predators over the Internet by becoming children themselves, the sources said.
In most cases, predators login to an Internet chat room to meet youngsters for a number of reasons, including anonymity, law enforcement sources said.
“Remember, the Internet gives these individuals the opportunity and the drive to prey on youngsters without the fear of arrest,” the sources said. “Until they take that final step where they meet with the youngster.”
Statistics released by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children for the year 2009 (the last available statistics), indicate that child sex offenders utilized the Internet 6,700 times that year, searching for sex with 12 and 13 year old children in New York City.
“These people can go online and become whoever they want to be, or whoever they think the child wants them to be,” law enforcement sources said. “It gives them a real high.”
Part of the problem is the fact that many parents use the Internet as a babysitter, the sources said.
“Kids too often come home from school to an empty house and immediately go online, unsupervised,” the sources said.
A study conducted in 2010 by the Association of Parents Against Predators (a child Internet advocacy group with offices in Manhattan and Washington, D.C.), revealed that 140 of 185 youngsters from upper to middle income families, ages 11 to 13, said they had “carte blanche” Internet access with no supervision.
“Faced with the information we now have on the habits and behavior of child sexual predators, those numbers are completely unacceptable,” law enforcement sources said.
Youngsters who were victimized online showed a lack of self-esteem, had few or no friends and tended to be left alone over long periods of time, the study showed.
“These are a new generation of superhighway latchkey kids,” law enforcement sources said. “It’s amazing that we can teach kids not to speak to strangers on the street, while too many parents fail to tell their kids to stay away from strangers on the Internet.”
State legislators in 2001 made it more difficult for child predators to reach-out and touch their young prey over the Internet.
Lawmakers passed the Sexual Assault Reform Act (SARA), hailed as the first major change in the state’s 1965 penal law defining sex crimes.
SARA amended Megan’s Law to require convicted sex offenders to provide their Internet accounts and screen names for publication on the New York state Sex Offender Registry.
Megan’s Law was named for seven year old Megan Kanka, who was abducted, raped and murdered by a twice-convicted sex offender who lived across the street from her family’s New Jersey home. Megan’s Law requires recently released child sex offenders to list their name(s), addresses and phone numbers on the state registry within 10 days of parole or probation.
The new provision SARA, enhanced Megan’s Law by expanding the categories of offenders covered by Megan’s Law, to include Internet child predators. Under Megan’s Law, offenders residing in New York state, who committed their crimes in other jurisdictions, must register in the other state as well.
For information on child sex offenders in your neighborhood, or for further information on Megan’s Law, login to www.meganslaw.com