In Your Corner: Keeping Predators Off Facebook

By Ryan Elijah

November 11, 2011 Updated Nov 11, 2011 at 10:07 AM EDT

Child protection groups have estimated that tens of thousands of sexual predators are online at any given time.

"you can be anyone on the internet, you could be talking to me or a sexual predator", said Detective Jeff Shimkus of the Allen County Sheriff's Department.

Shimkus has spent years working on the sex offender and notification team with the Sheriff's Department. Under Indiana law, sexually violent predators and those convicted on child pornography charges are not allowed to use any form of social media that allows users under 18, that includes Facebook.

"no predator can use those social media websites", said Shimkus.

It is a misdemeanor for accessing the site, but it usually becomes a "Class D" Felony when it turns out the offender failed to register their email address or screen name, which Congress passed as a Federal law in 2008.

Not all states ban offenders from using social media, in Indiana the restriction is in place as long as the offender is on the registry. The problem is more common than you might think locally with 13 internet investigations and convictions in the past two years.

While Facebook has an option for users to report sex offenders, authorities say it's important you contact them first.

"contact local law enforcement first, so we can save the page and get there before any evidence is lost"

The Sheriff's Department website allows users to search email addresses and screen names to see if they belong to a sex offender, there is also software available that allows parents to essentially "spy" on their kids online activity, but Detective Shimkus feels there really shouldn't be any secrets between parents and their kids.

Georgia is a state that has tested software designed to scour sites for sex offenders, but a few months ago the ACLU sued to stop a Louisiana law that restricts sex offenders from certain sites and chat rooms.
Cybertipline reported nearly 1/4 million complaints about online activity last year, that's twice the number from the year before.

Go to Ryan Elijah's INC Facebook page for a discussion on the story and to find a link to search emails and screen names.


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