Originally created 04/08/06

Child sex predators could be anyone



It's as if the fates conspired to put an explanation point on what a dangerous problem the sexual exploitation of children over the Internet has become.

At about the same time a key House subcommittee was hearing teenager Justin Berry's dramatic testimony of how Internet pornography seriously damaged him emotionally, the fourth highest official in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was being arrested for using the Internet to seduce who he thought was a 14-year-old girl.

Amazing. If the charges against 55-year-old Brian J. Doyle are true, then the man hired to be Homeland Security's deputy press secretary in the government's fight against terrorism is himself a terrorist of sorts. How's that for ugly irony?

Doyle was arrested Tuesday at his Maryland home after allegedly having inappropriate Internet contact with a Polk County, Fla., police detective posing as a teenage girl. He's also charged with transmitting harmful materials to a minor.

According to police, Doyle was at his computer communicating with his "teenage friend" when authorities came to arrest him. If a man like this is a child predator - presumably his personal history was closely checked before he was hired - then anybody could be. There is no stereotype for child predators. There are thousands of them, and they come from all walks of life.

Doyle's arrest dramatized the extent of child sex predators in cyberspace. It is not an anecdotal thing. Indeed, it is much more widespread than most people think. As the House subcommittee hearings brought out, cyberspace child pornography that did so much damage to young Justin Barry's psyche is a $20 billion annual business.

Congress will do what it can to help. Lawmakers will be looking at legislation to curb cyberspace child sex. but it won't be easy. Loopholes abound, both constitutionally and technologically. "Each year, each week, each day the predators are becoming more sophisticated with computers, facilitating the growth and evolution of online child pornography," testified one expert.

The best defense against child porn is parents. Hopefully, events such as Doyle's arrest and this week's congressional hearing will alert parents to the fact that cyberspace can be just as dangerous for their children as letting them wander alone at night in the most dangerous part of town.

There are a number of simple things adults can do to enhance their child's safety, including telling them to never give away personal information. They also should install the computer in a central location, like the family room, where it's easier to keep an eye on what their kids are doing.

While law enforcers will do what they can to police cyberspace, parents must do all they can to police their kids' activity on the Internet. Know where they're going and whom they're talking to.