Web-Related Child Sex Crimes Rise, Parks Says
Los Angeles police said Wednesday that they have seen a dramatic increase in child exploitation crimes over the Internet this year and suggested that parents better supervise their children’s use of computers.
“There’s been an explosion of these crimes,” said Det. Bill Dworin, who heads the LAPD’s sexually exploited child unit, “and we expect it to get worse.”
According to Dworin, sexual predators have been using the Internet to distribute child pornography, while pedophiles have been relying on computers to contact children and lure them into illegal sexual rendezvous.
“There’s not a lot of supervision as to the number of contacts children may make on the Internet,” Chief Bernard C. Parks said at his monthly meeting with reporters. “Young people have been enticed to leave their homes.”
In the first six months of this year, the LAPD has filed twice as many criminal Internet-related child exploitation cases as it did for all of last year. In 1997, the five-member unit filed eight cases compared with 16 so far this year.
The unit is also investigating more than a dozen cases, Dworin said.
Computer crimes are difficult for police to detect because of the number of offenders, the anonymity of computer networks and limited law enforcement resources.
Jurisdiction can be another obstacle for police, Dworin said, explaining that sexual offenders using the Internet for illicit purposes often are located outside Southern California. Because of that, the LAPD works with the FBI and other local police agencies to crack down on the problem.
“We see new pictures every day of children being molested. The volume is extremely great,” Dworin said. “There are so many Web sites we can’t count them. . . . This is a national issue, not just a local one.”
He said his unit is overwhelmed with work and he fears that the problem will only get worse as computers become even more affordable, allowing more families to purchase them.
“It’s a rampant problem,” said Jayne Murphy Shapiro, president of Kids Safe, a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating children and parents on how to use the Internet safely. “The Internet is the newest playground for pedophiles.”
Shapiro and Dworin said that parents and children need to be better informed about the dangers that lurk on the Internet. They advised parents to tell their children to never give out their names or addresses over the Internet and never arrange a face-to-face meeting with anyone they meet online without parental permission.
They also said parents should research options that block Internet sites, such as sex-related chat rooms, which are inappropriate for children.
“We tell our children: ‘Don’t talk to strangers.’ Then we put them in a bedroom with a computer to be used as a baby-sitting tool,” Dworin said. “Many parents do not have the knowledge that their children have about computers.”
Although child exploitation crimes over the Internet are on the upswing, Parks told reporters that other crimes throughout the city are continuing to drop significantly.
Despite the precipitous drop in crimes, Parks said that officer productivity is increasing. He noted that while overall crime has decreased 27% over the past two years, arrests, which plummeted in the early 1990s, have increased 10% over the same period.