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Don't Blame It on the Internet!
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Two new bills head for the Senate, destined to join the Children's Internet Protection Act as part of a growing body of federal, state, and local legislative remedies intended to protect children from that perceived pit of perfidy and pedophilia known as the Internet. Unfortunately, however, none of those laws will protect the children most in danger from online sexual predators because those children are not victims of the Internet; they are victims of their own unmet needs.


Last week, a 13- year-old Connecticut girl was murdered. The young teen died in a car at a local mall, strangled during a sexual encounter with a 25-year-old man she had met on the Internet.

Coincidentally, Christina Long's body was found a day before the U.S. House of Representatives voted on the Child Sex Crimes Wiretapping Act (H.R. 1877), a law that would allow federal authorities to intercept Internet communications and wiretap telephone calls of suspected sexual predators. Speaking in favor of the law's passage, U.S. Representative Nancy Johnson of Connecticut said, "Yesterday, a 13-year-old girl in my home state, a beautiful young woman, an honor student, a cheerleader, was found murdered."

Blame this child's death, Johnson implied, on the Internet. Save other innocent children by safeguarding them online.

Johnson's "cyberstalking" bill passed by a margin of 396 to 11. Moments later, the House also approved, by a vote of 406 to 2, the Dot Kids Implementation and Efficiency Act, a bill allowing the federal government to establish and oversee an online domain restricted to material appropriate for children younger than 13.

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In today's StarrPoints, columnist Linda Starr says that regulating the Internet won't save most kids from online predators. What do you think? Can legislation save kids who are looking for love online? Share your reflections on a StarrPoints message board.


Linda Starr, a former teacher and the mother of four "nearly grown" children, has been an education writer for almost a decade. Starr is the curriculum and technology editor for Education World.

Those two bills, along with the Children's Internet Protection Act, contribute to a growing body of federal, state, and local legislative remedies intended to protect children from that perceived pit of perfidy and pedophilia known as the Internet.

Unfortunately, as well intentioned as those laws might be, they probably would not have protected Christina Long nor will they protect the other children most in danger from online sexual predators. Those children are not victims of the Internet; they are victims of their own unmet needs.

Christina was, by all accounts, "a beautiful young woman, an honor student, a cheerleader." She was also, like too many children today, a troubled child, beset by family problems and, unaccountably, suffering from a deep sense of insecurity and low self-esteem. This child, according to the adults in her life, was well acquainted with the dangers posed by strangers, both online and off. She was not a child unexpectedly accosted by a predator while engaged in an innocent pursuit of information. She was online -- secure in the youthful certainty of her own immortality -- searching for strangers who were willing to provide the friendship, acceptance, validation, attention, and love she did not feel from those she knew.

Christina found what she was looking for on the Internet, not because the Internet is teeming with sexual predators but because sexual predators inhabit the Internet -- just as they inhabit schools and churches and malls and ice-cream shops and neighborhood convenience stores -- looking for children who are looking for love.

Legislation perhaps can reduce the online risks for children who are so desperate for attention and acceptance that they seek it out from strangers, but regulating the Internet can never protect children from all the dangers inherent in such a search. Educators, in particular, need to recognize the unique opportunity they have to identify those at-risk children before they face the dangers the legislation attempts to protect them from.

Look around your classroom. Do you see a child with few friends? a child who doesn't quite fit in with any group? a child lost in an uncertain family situation? a child who has suddenly begun dressing or acting provocatively? a child who appears overly eager for attention or approval? a child defiantly unconcerned with the opinion of others? If so, do something, say something, take action -- even if that child is a paragon of academic and athletic achievement. Don't depend on legislation to address the problem; by then it might be too late.

The Internet did not kill Christina Long. Perhaps, without the easy access the Internet provided, Christina Long would still be alive today. Most likely, however, without the intervention of an adult who noticed and cared and acted, it would only have been a matter of time.