U.S. attorney urges parents to monitor kids Internet activities 
March 10, 2010 9:21 PM
By GARY LONG, The Brownsville Herald
The attorney who prosecutes crimes against children for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Brownsville has this advice for parents: Know where your children go on the Internet, what their passwords are, and do monitor their activity — especially on Facebook and MySpace.

“Monitoring your children’s activities on the computer is not spying on your children,” Megan Paulson, the assistant U.S. attorney in Brownsville assigned to crimes against children and who has prosecuted such cases exclusively for the past eight years, told an audience of Brownsville Independent School District parents Wednesday morning.

“It is spying on the Internet predators trying to access your kids.”

Paulson presented a program on child molestation that the U.S. Attorney’s Office plans to present across the Southern District of Texas — first to parents and later to children as part of their schoolwork.

She said authorities in recent years have begun to get a better handle on child molestation. In 2009 the Department of Justice prosecuted 2,074 such cases, with 1,769 guilty pleas 103 trials and three acquittals. Just three years earlier in 2006 the number of cases was 1,374 with 1,089 guilty pleas, 53 trials and four acquittals.

Put another way, the DOJ figures there is one child molester for every square mile in the United States, Paulson said. Seventy-five percent of them are white males between 25 and 45, they usually are involved or employed where they have access to children and if they have been caught the government knows where they are.

The national registry of sex offenders is available online at www.nsopr.gov. People can find out if a sex offender lives near them by providing their zip code in the proper link on the Web site.

But the point of Paulson’s presentation was that simpler common-sense methods are more effective for keeping your children safe from child molesters. Besides, the adult involved could be virtually anywhere and probably is posing as someone they’re clearly not.

Paulson said sex offenders often find their victims on the Internet through the social networking sites MySpace and Facebook or on blogs. Their victims usually have unsupervised access to a computer.

MySpace has removed 90,000 sex offenders from its site in the last two years, she said, while Facebook has removed 5,500 such people since 2008.

Paulson also pointed out that once an image has been posted online it cannot be removed. Also, people have come to regret comments and photos they placed on their MySpace or Facebook pages.

“What kids have on their Facebook and MySpace pages affects their job prospects tremendously,” she said. “People are taking these things seriously.” Paulson then pointed out that University of Texas head football coach Mack Brown dismissed a player from his team for posting a racial slur on his Facebook page.

She said sex offenders gain the confidence of their victims by being good listeners, appearing to be interested in their victim’s problems and playing the role of a trusted friend. Often they pose as someone close to the victim’s age in whom they would be interested romantically.

Paulson urged parents to always keep the computer in a common room and never to allow a Webcam. She said asking someone to send a picture, particularly a nude or partially nude picture, is an obvious sign of trouble. A Webcam, which transmits continual video images over the Internet, only compounds the problem.

She urged parents to educate themselves about computers and technology and their children about online dangers. She also urged parents to utilize parental controls, filtering software, blocking software and password protection on their computers.