By: Javier Manjarres
September 22, 2023
As more and more unfortunate news stories of children being abused online by sexual predators are being written and reported on, it appears as if federal and state governments, including the U.S. Congress, are dropping the ball in arresting and prosecuting online predators who are active threats to children.
Florida’s leading conservative think tank, The James Madison Institute, held its annual “Florida Tech and Innovation Summit” in Coral Gables, where technology junkies from around the country attended to discuss issues like broadband, AI, and the problem of online predation of children.
While most of the day-long event focused on the wonky aspects of the tech sector and the innovations that have been, and are currently being developed in this space, the issue of keeping kids safe on the internet took center stage.
According to Net Choice Director of Public Affairs, Robert Winterton, a “greater conversation to keep kids safe online is needed,” and the government needed to step up and address the lack of adequate funding and “lack of law enforcement” that has hamstrung the efforts to address the online child predator problem.
“It’s not that law enforcement doesn’t want to, its just that there aren’t adequate funds, adequate government support both at the federal and state level to go after bad actors online, as a result, there are more criminals out there than there should be because they are not enforcing the law,” said Winterton in an interview with The Floridian.
According to Winterton, “there is not good enforcement, there is not enough funding” to mitigate the child predation problem, and the Department of Justice’s conviction percentage rate for child predators only hovers in the teens while conviction rates in other areas range as high as 90 percent.
In addition, Winterton says that the bipartisan Save Our Children Act of 2008 did allocate funds for law enforcement to protect children, but only about 50 percent of those funds were actually dispersed to the necessary parties.
Back in 2017, then-Congressman Ron DeSantis sponsored The Targeting Child Predators Act (H.R. 883), a measure that would help law enforcement prosecute child predators
“As a former prosecutor, I know firsthand just how valuable electronic evidence can be to target predators and protect our children,” DeSantis said. “The Targeting Child Predators Act will prevent suspects from destroying evidence and covering their tracks, giving law enforcement the tools they need to better investigate these heinous crimes. This is a sensible reform that aims to better protect our children from exploitation online and I hope this bill is taken up by the full House as soon as possible,” said Rep. DeSantis.
Recently, Governor DeSantis signed into law a bill that allows for convicted child rapists to be put to death, and he signed SB 262, a measure that protects children from being targeted online.
“The government needs to step up too, and I think when you hear lawmakers talk about this issue They are not talking about that enough,” added Winterton. “Government needs to be, in general, more focused on what we can do in this space. Tech can’t arrest a child predator, the best they can do is delete them from their services and the info to law enforcement. It has to happen over there, and it’s not.
But while state and federal governments need to focus more on engaging the growing threat to children from online predators, all stakeholders agree that parental activism and involvement is “fundamental” to keeping children safe.
“While schools absolutely should get involved in educating young people on how to stay safe on the internet, it also has to start in the home and we are going to see the similar types of kids vulnerable in this situation that are vulnerable on a lot of issues because maybe they don’t have good parents, maybe they don’t have parents at all and are in the foster system,” added Winterton.
Sal Nuzzo, The James Madison Institutes Vice President in Florida, believes that keeping kids safe begins at home and that it is important for those parents to have the “appropriate tools” available to them to help them keep their children safe from online predators.
“There has to be a balance on an understanding that we are all very-well intentioned on wanting to ensure that children are protected online and that parents have the appropriate tools to keep them safe online, while also balancing First Amendment and Free Speech issues that are relevant to that discussion,” said Nuzzo.
The FBI currently has section on it’s website devoted to helping parents address the child exploitation problem, by telling them what to look out for and how to speak to their children about the threats they face whenever they log onto the internet.
Currently, there are an estimated 500,000 online predators actively stalking children each day.