Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Mothers Against Predators

Coral Springs teen, mom work to stop online predators

Nicole had barely turned 12 when a 29-year-old man crept into her bedroom.His entry point was her PC. His ticket was AOL Instant Messenger. His method was to befriend her through online chats, lure her from home and molest her.It took a month for him to accomplish it all.That happened nearly four years ago. Though the predator was arrested, and police say he confessed, he is a fugitive.Now, Nicole and her mother seek their own kind of justice. They want to make sure the mistakes made by prosecutors at the time — allowing Waqas "Michael" Rehman to flee the country before being brought to justice — won't happen again. And they want Nicole's story to be a lesson for others.Out of their Coral Springs home, Nicole and her mother, Jaemi Levine, whose last name is different from her daughter's, have launched their version of MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Drivers. Theirs is called MAP, Mothers Against Predators.They are pressing Florida legislators to require specialized training for police and prosecutors who go after Internet predators. And they hope to change the way children are taught to deal with criminals who stalk via computer screens."He got me to trust him," said Nicole, now 15.The South Florida Sun-Sentinel doesn't usually identify minors who have been victimized but is honoring Nicole and her mother's request to do so to raise awareness of the issue. "Too many victims feel they have to hide in shadows or shame," said Levine. "We put our faces out there to protect other children."On the surface, Nicole is a typical kid. She has a giggly laugh, is prone to sarcastic remarks and hounds her mom for what she wants. These days what she wants most is freedom from her mother's overprotective watch.But talk to Nicole about what happened and her mood darkens. Quiet and polite by nature, a scowl washes over a reddened face and she tends to swear. She is angry, still a little scared. Yet she's determined to change the world, the online world, which connects so many vulnerable kids to hunters like Rehman."They tell kids 'You're so sexy,' and 'I want to meet you' when they mean 'I want to have sex with you.' It's disgusting," Nicole said. "It's horrible."She spends little time online now. She prefers her cell phone to stay in touch with family and friends. She appeared on several television shows, including America's Most Wanted, after the crime occurred. Because of that, students at her high school recognize her.Some have asked if it was fun to be on TV. Some teased her about what happened, in that way that high school kids can sometimes be brutally mean. But some have confided that they, too, were contacted inappropriately by adults online, and ask her for advice. "Those are the kids I care about," Nicole said. "I say tell an adult. Tell police."When Nicole was victimized, she was into Care Bears, Barbie dolls and learning to use her new computer. Along with her three siblings, she convinced her mother, a single parent, that it made sense for each to have a computer in their bedrooms. Convenience and a quiet place to study was the argument.Her foray online began with setting up an AOL profile and posting a series of photos of her and her friends at a pool party. They included shots of her in a yellow swimsuit."They were not provocative," said Nicole. "I was 12. How could they be?"Within a few days, she received an instant message from Rehman. "Hi. Looking for a friend. Wanna chat?" She was flattered and didn't tell her parents. "I didn't want to get grounded," she said.Nicole was 12, but her profile claimed she was 15. Rehman said he was 18, 11 years younger than his real age, according to police reports. Only a few days passed before he professed love for her."I was fighting with my dad," recalled Nicole, whose parents are divorced. "He said my dad was wrong for fighting with me. He told me he loved me. I thought, 'Wow,' he's real."
Rehman was real, all right — real dangerous. Police say he convinced Nicole to meet him twice and molested her both times. After the second incident, she told her mom."I went from a Martha Stewart mom, a Brownie leader, to someone who now knows a lot about online dangers and is determined to make sure this never happens to another child again," said Levine.Statistics indicate that MAP, with its two dozen members, all parents of South Florida teens, has an uphill battle. More than 77 million children regularly use the Internet. Approximately six out of 10 teens ages 13 to 17 have profiles on social-networking sites, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. One in seven report being solicited by predators.Fortunately, Florida is on the forefront in attempts to apprehend cyber criminals targeting children.
Attorney General Bill McCollum has made the law-enforcement campaign a central cause in his administration. In the past year, his office has conducted teaching seminars at middle and high schools across the state, reaching more than 65,000 students. During the presentations, more than 3,700 students told officials that they had either been sexually solicited by an adult online or sent pornography — both of which are felony crimes.McCollum also has launched a special law enforcement division — the Child Predator CyberCrime Unit — to investigate and arrest adults who prey on children online or traffic in child pornography.The Legislature last year approved state funding to operate seven offices statewide with 56 full-time investigators, prosecutors and victim advocates. But budget cuts have forced plans for two of those offices (Fort Myers and Tallahassee) to be put on hold and jeopardized two others ( Tampa and Pensacola). Only three offices are up and running (Jacksonville, Orlando and Fort Lauderdale) with half the staffing approved by lawmakers.Yet, in just 2 1/2 years, the unit has made 63 arrests of alleged criminals charged with creating, possessing or distributing child porn, or sexually soliciting children online and traveling to carry out the crimes.The state effort is commendable. But, it needs to be expanded. Funding needs to be preserved and eventually increased.Spend time on sites like AOL, MySpace and Facebook, and you'll get a taste of what law enforcement is up against. For a predator, these sites can provide shopping lists of children, with public profiles that often detail ages, names, home cities and other personal information. The profiles may be meant for friends, but predators infiltrate them with ease.Just as Rehman did with Nicole's.MAP's intentions are solid, but the group is understaffed, underfunded and not well-publicized. Levine attemptsto recruit members through home meetings and handing out flyers in public. She also is developing plans for public meetings with the attorney general's office.MAP's core mission is to educate parents and children about what to do when they're approached. Some educational campaigns encourage children to turn off their computers when contacted by anyone suspicious or to end communications. Nicole and her mother want children and parents to be more proactive. They want children to SCREAM: Save, Copy and Report, Every Arrest Matters.Authorities are warming up to the SCREAM concept."We encourage children and parents to report the incident to the CyberTipline with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children," said Maureen Horkan, director of the state's CyberCrime units, adding, "Certainly, if they want to do more by saving and copying, it is helpful."Levine wants more from authorities too."We need more than a separate state police force; we need a separate judicial system," said Levine, adding that drug courts serve as a model of what she is talking about. Short of that, she calls for mandatory cyber crime training for all county and state prosecutors, police and judges.Rehman, a Pakistani national, was released from a Broward County jail because of missteps by the state. He was set free despite confessing to six felony counts of crimes against a child between the age of 12 and 16, according to police reports. He skipped three court hearings before an arrest warrant was issued.That day was Dec., 20, 2004, the same day Rehman boarded a flight to Jordan."A mistake was made," said Dennis Siegel, a supervisor of the state attorney's Sex Crimes/Child Abuse Unit in Broward County. "We filed the case too late to require him to post a bond in order to be released." Siegel said his office has made changes to ensure the same thing won't happen again.Changes after the fact offer little comfort to Nicole and her mom."I know he's out there. I know he knows where I live," said Nicole. "Sometimes I want to forget what happened and move on. But I also don't want him to hurt another little girl."Nicole, Levine and MAP are the underdogs in this battle. The cyber stalkers have the advantage now. But Nicole is willing to put her pink Care Bears backpack aside, along with her pain, and give up what's left of her childhood years to fight this fight.The least we can do is line up behind her.Daniel Vasquez can be reached at dvasquez@sun-sentinel.com, 954-356-4219 or 561-243-6600, ext. 4219.

NCMEC giving workshop in Naples

Workshop to teach about child predators
By RYAN MILLS (Contact)
9:16 p.m., Sunday, April 20, 2008

It might not be fair to the Nile crocodiles, but Naples Detective Joe Whitehead compares their method of attack to that of adults who prey on children for sex.
Nile crocodiles, he said, move slowly through shallow water without making a ripple, and attack their victims when they least expect it.
“They work with their environment to camouflage their aggression,” Whitehead said. “Predatory people work in a similar way. ... They use whatever tools they have, such as presenting themselves as a volunteer, someone who helps kids. They have a goal, something they want to achieve.”
Thursday morning, Whitehead is joining professionals from across Collier County for the Campaign Against Sexual Exploitation, a free workshop designed to instruct people on how to protect their children from becoming victims of sexual exploitation.
The workshop, which runs from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Norris Community Center, 755 8th Ave S., in Naples, is a new effort by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and the National Association of Counties.
The other agencies participating in the workshop are the Collier County Board of Commissionaires, the Collier County Sheriff’s Office, the Children’s Advocacy Center of Collier County, Project HELP, and the Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking.
“It’s going to be a presentation, but at the same time there is going to be an exchange of ideas,” said Maribel Slabaugh, program manager for the National Center of Missing & Exploited Children of Collier County.
Though there tends to be less crime in Collier County than in surrounding counties, sexual predators can be found in any community, authorities said.
For instance, on April 7, Naples police arrested a 22-year-old Golden Gate Estates man after they say he confessed during a monitored phone call to having a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old girl he met on the social networking Web site, MySpace.
Later that week agents from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement arrested a 35-year-old Golden Gate Estates man after they say he sent e-mails containing child pornography from his girlfriend’s computer.
“We can’t continue thinking that nothing is happening here just because I don’t know of it,” Slabaugh said. “It’s happening.”
People who attend the workshop will learn about a predator’s profile, the investigative process, signs of abuse, and the healing process. There will also be a question-and-answer period, and information booths.
“They’re going to get a very complete picture in regards to child exploitation,” Whitehead said.
Just as the Nile crocodile likes to keep a low profile while pursing its prey, a seemingly safe community like Naples can be appealing to a sexual predator, Whitehead said.
“The placid environment,” Whitehead said, “is sometimes an attractive one for some of the most predatory individuals.”
For more information or to register for the workshop, contact Maribel Slabaugh with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children of Collier County at (239) 566-5806 or by e-mail at mslabaugh@ncmec.org.

Campaign Against Sexual Exploitation
When: Thursday, April 24, 2008, 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Where: Norris Community Center, 755 8th Avenue South, Naples, Fl
Cost: Free
Age limit: All ages
Categories: Meetings
Description: Campaign Against Sexual Exploitation is a free workshop designed to instruct people on how to protect their children from becoming victims of sexual exploitation. The workshop, which runs from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Norris Community Center, 755 8th Ave S., in Naples, is a new effort by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and the National Association of Counties.
Event posted: April 20, 2008Last updated: April 20, 2008

Blunt wants to kill child rapists! We all would...

Governor tours state to call for death penalty for sexual offenders who attack children

Monday, April 21, 2008, 10:51 AM
By Steve Walsh

Governor Matt Blunt (R-MO) is renewing his call for the state's worst sexual predators to be death penalty eligible.

The Governor is asking the General Assembly to send him legislation that would allow prosecutors to seek the death penalty in cases of forcible rape and forcible sodomy when the victim is younger than 12-years of age.

In issuing his call, Blunt noted a recent child rape case in Springfield where a 36-year-old man has been charged with kidnapping and forcibly raping and sodomizing a 7-year-old girl and leaving her for dead in a burning house. Blunt strongly believes death should be an optional penalty for child rape.

Currently Louisiana, Montana, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas have laws that allow capital punishment for a violent offender convicted of child rape. Alabama, Colorado, Mississippi and Tennessee also are considering similar laws.

Judge frees sex offenders who did not register

Judge frees out-of-state sex offenders
He rules that making them register if they move to another state is unconstitutional.

Jim Leusner Sentinel Staff Writer
April 19, 2008

An Orlando federal judge has ordered the release of two jailed, out-of-state sex offenders who moved to Florida, ruling that part of the Adam Walsh Act requiring their registration is unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Gregory Presnell on Friday ruled that the 2006 federal law requiring state sex offenders to register with law-enforcement officials when they move across state lines was largely a local issue.

The ruling, made in two unrelated sex-offender cases pending in Orlando, led to the dismissal of charges against Robert D. Powers, 43, and Tommy William Buckius, 60, both of Orlando. Powers was released Friday from the Seminole County Jail, but Buckius remained in the Orange County Jail.

Powers was convicted in 1995 in South Carolina of sexual assault, freed in 1997 and later arrested for failing to register as a state sex offender. In 2002, he registered in North Carolina but absconded in 2005 and did not register with Florida authorities when he repeatedly visited Orlando in the late 1990s and lived with his mother in 2007.

Buckius, who pleaded guilty to the attempted rape of a 13-year-old Ohio girl in 1986, was freed from prison there in 2000 and later registered as a sex offender. He previously was convicted of assault with intent to commit rape in Texas in 1973, court records show.

But in November 2006, Buckius moved from Liverpool, Ohio, and did not notify local authorities of his new address. He was documented living in Orlando as early as March 2007 and arrested in February 2008.

Assistant Federal Public Defenders Michelle Smith and Stephen Langs argued that Congress lacked the authority to force state sex offenders solely convicted of local offenses to register.

Powers had an IQ of 68, a second-grade reading level and did not understand state sex-offender forms he had signed, Smith argued.

They also contended both men were convicted of crimes before the new law was passed and should not be subjected to them. But federal prosecutors argued that an Attorney General's rule applied to sex offenders before the new took effect in 2007.

Known as the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, it was passed in honor of Adam Walsh, a South Florida boy killed in 1981. It was designed to help identify up to 200,000 unaccounted-for sex offenders nationwide.

Failing to register carries a prison term of up to 10 years. The law requires states to notify all sex offenders in or out of prison about the federal provision, but Florida has yet to comply with the new federal rules deadline of July 2009.

"The Adam Walsh Act was enacted with a commendable goal -- to protect the public from sex offenders," Presnell wrote. "However, a worthy cause is not enough to transform a state concern [sex-offender registration] into a federal crime."

Ironically, three other Central Florida federal judges have upheld the law's constitutionality in other cases, though one last year said he wished he could have dropped the case the next day if the suspect had registered. He sentenced the suspect to probation.

Presnell's problem with the federal law centered on the "mere unrelated travel in interstate commerce" to link it with local criminal conduct. Such reasoning would subject virtually all criminal activity to federal scrutiny, he wrote."

Surely, our founding fathers did not contemplate such a broad view of federalism," Presnell wrote.

Jim Leusner can be reached at jleusner@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5411.

Sex offenders have to pay for treatment

Funds dry up for indigent sex offender treatment in four counties
April 21st, 2008 @ 8:42am

FARMINGTON, Utah (AP) -- Funds have run out for psychosexual examinations and sex offender therapy for indigent sex offenders in Davis, Weber, Morgan and Tooele counties.

Probation and parole officials in those counties say the $10,000 budgeted for that work has been spent. New funds will be available when the next fiscal year begins July 1.

Defense attorneys, prosecutors and probation agents say the $550 evaluation and treatment are intended to help defendants cope and resist re-offending.

Defendants who can afford to do so pay for their own exams and treatment, but many defendants become indigent once they're in jail, and many are indigent before even coming to court.

Wisconsin limits sex offenders living area

Ashwaubenon considering sex offender ordinance
Restrictions similar to Green Bay's

By Patti Zarling • pzarling@greenbaypressgazette.com • April 21, 2008

ASHWAUBENON — Ashwaubenon leaders want to slam the door on sex offenders migrating from Green Bay into the community.

The village may adopt restrictions mirroring a Green Bay ordinance that bars certain sex offenders from living in most of the city. Village officials took a wait-and-see approach last year when Green Bay enacted its tough new rule. Today, Ashwaubenon leaders say residents are fed up with sex offenders coming into the village because they can't find housing in Green Bay.

"We have to do something to protect our citizens," said village President Jerry Menne. "When you have someone crying on the phone because they're so upset, it's time to take action."

The village Public Works and Protection Committee supports an ordinance that would restrict certain sex offenders from living within 1,500 feet of a school, day care center, park or other place children might gather. That's less stringent than the Green Bay law, which sets a 2,000-foot restriction.

But it's still tough enough to limit sex offenders to small patches of properties within the village.

The committee also endorsed a loitering rule making it illegal for certain offenders to visit areas within 200 feet of certain places where children might be.

The restrictions need final Village Board approval. The board is expected to discuss the issue at its regular Tuesday meeting.

If enacted, the village likely also would create an appeals board, similar to Green Bay's, said public safety Director Eric Dunning.

That board, made of ordinary citizens, considers requests from offenders who want to move into or to a different home within the community.

Many offenders in so-called "Romeo and Juliet" cases, in which teens have consensual relations with teens, are not seen as likely to re-offend and are allowed to move.

Dunning said the village likely would grandfather in sex offenders already living in the village.

Although neighbors may be unhappy with sex offenders moving in next door, state Department of Corrections officials say they're likely to go underground if communities make it too hard for them to find housing.

Jed Neuman, corrections field supervisor for the DOC, further argues that 86 percent of victims know their perpetrator.

"Let's not assume these ordinances are keeping people safe," he said. "I would hate for residents to think they've solved the problem."

Both Dunning and Menne say they support those arguments, but they insist Green Bay has created an uneven playing field.

"I truly believe in the process (the state) laid out and that we'll be worse off if we don't know where they are," Dunning said.

Alabama gets more dough to track offenders


Marc Summers

Governor Bob Riley recently announced that Alabama has been awarded a $300,000 federal grant to enhance the states ability to track sex offenders.

The grant application was coordinated through the Governors Community Notification Task Force, which Governor Riley established by executive order last August.

Sex offenders are considered the most dangerous criminals because of the great likelihood that they will repeat their crimes. Thats why it is so vitally important for law enforcement and the public to know where these dangerous predators live, said Governor Riley.

This federal grant will augment law enforcements ability to monitor, track and take enforcement actions against convicted sex offenders in Alabama.

The funds will be used by the state to improve electronic information sharing, concerning sex offenders and provide local law enforcement agencies with assistance for conducting in-person address verification checks.

This will occur through the coordinated efforts of the Alabama Department of Public Safety, the Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center, the Alabama Department of Corrections and the Alabama Office of Prosecution Services.

The Department of Public Safety, which maintains the states sex offender registry, will serve as the lead agency and administer the grant.

The grant was awarded by the U.S. Department of Justice.