Saturday, January 19, 2008

Luring a child soon to be a crime

Predators face laws on ‘luring’ next year

By David Steves
The Register-Guard

Published: December 31, 2007 05:00AM


SALEM — Sexual predators who use the Internet to lure and groom child victims will find police and district attorneys better equipped to catch and prosecute them under tougher laws that take effect Jan. 1.

For the first time, such pedophiles can be arrested and convicted for the crime of “luring,” which prosecutors say is a critical early step that, when allowed to take place, leads to more damaging forms of sexual abuse of children. Oregon law also creates the crime of online sexual corruption.

An Oregon man whose organization has sought to raise public awareness about sex crimes against children and target their perpetrators said the 2007 Legislature did not put Oregon on the cutting edge, but did bring it up to par with other states.

Portlander Xavier Von Erck founded Perverted Justice, which has worked with the NBC program “To Catch a Predator.” He said his group hasn’t gone after pedophiles in Oregon as much as in other states because of the state’s relatively weak laws.

“Half the time when we get a guy in Oregon, we’d go to the police and the prosecutor, and they’d say they could only charge them with a misdemeanor, and that’s just not worth it for a lot of them,” Von Erck said. “So we’re very happy to see these new laws come into effect. With proper felonies, there will be more focus on these kind of crimes and we’ll get more arrests.”

The laws passed overwhelmingly in the last session of the Legislature. Like society as a whole, laws have had to adjust to the ways that pedophiles have used technology — not just the Internet, but cell phone text-messaging and even iPod videos — to pursue their victims.

“Twenty years ago you had to go down to your local park and be observed by a bunch of adults, potentially, and try to approach kids who had been taught about ‘stranger danger.’ It was a lot more risky,” said Von Erck, who is Perverted Justice’s director of operations. “Nowadays, you’re online, you can go target thousands of kids ... and there’s really no one to see you do it.”

The crime of online sexual corruption, created by House Bill 3515, is punishable by up to 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and requires those convicted to register as sex offenders in the state. It passed the House and Senate without dissent.

House Bill 2843, which targets pedophiles for luring their victims with sexually explicit material, was approved by all but two members in the House and one in the Senate in its floor votes.

During the bill’s public hearing last spring, Marion County prosecutor Jodie Bureta said pedophiles use text messaging, social networking Web sites and even notes left outside a child’s home to expose them to pornography and begin the process of grooming them to be sexual abuse victims.

Current law requires police and prosecutors to go after predators only when their actions advance to the stages of attempted sexual abuse, she said, even though the earlier steps are damaging to children.

The new law, Bureta said, will “allow us to stop this abuse in the grooming stage and hold people accountable while they’re grooming the children, while the harm is just starting to be done. We no longer have to wait until abuse physically occurs in order to catch these people, hold them accountable and protect these kids.”

It creates two levels of criminality for furnishing sexually explicit material.

It will be a misdemeanor to provide such material to a child younger than 13. Prosecutors could not go after certain furnishers of such material, such as the child’s parents, librarians or law enforcement officials, in some circumstances.

It will be a felony to “lure a minor” if such material is provided to someone under 18 with the intent of sexual arousal or to induce the minor into sexual activity.

Dave Fidanque, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, said his group was considering a constitutional challenge to the new law created by HB 2843.

His group has no problem with the “luring a minor” provisions, but despite language to safeguard educators, librarians and others from prosecution, the new law’s “furnishing sexually explicit material” misdemeanor is overly broad, Fidanque said. The law could give the government excessive power to restrict otherwise protected rights to free expression.

“There are all kinds of mainstream literature and film that might contain material that could be arousing to a minor that are protected constitutionally,” Fidanque said, describing possible scenarios in which a book store clerk says “you’ll enjoy this,” or a friend says “this is a great work of fiction,” and end up being charged with a misdemeanor.

No comments: