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Sex Offenders Using Social Networking Sites to Hunt? Not if Calif. Has Anything to Say About It

(AP)
(Alt.com/Personal Photo)
SACRAMENTO (CBS) Sex offenders in California will have one more roadblock in their efforts to lure young victims if lawmakers in Sacramento have anything to do with it.

Assemblywoman Norma Torres, D-Pomona (Los Angeles County), introduced the bill in January, which would make it a crime for California's 63,000 registered sex offenders to use any social networking site, the San Franciso Chronicle reported.

The number of users on social networking sites has doubled since 2007, Torres said, and many of those users are children. She noted that just last month, a 33-year-old man lured a 12-year-old girl to a hotel in Anaheim, where she was sexually assaulted.

Photo: Anthony Sowell.

A Crimesider investigative report, spurred by the 2009 case of Anthony Sowell in Cleveland who allegedly killed at least a dozen women and kept their bodies in his house, found that many dating sites do not do background checks on their members, but rather leave it to their members to police themselves.

Sowell was an active member of Alt.com, a sex fetish social networking Web site, and may have found at least one of his victims there.

Match.com spokesperson Amy Canaday said that at this time Match.com does not do any background searches on its members because there is "no 100 percent accurate way to do them." We also contacted eharmony.com but several calls asking for comment were not returned.

In contrast Crimesider found that MySpace has an aggressive policy in place to keep sex offenders of its site, which is very popular with young teens and pre-teens.

Michelle Collins of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children told Crimesider that the social networking site runs a 24/7 system running on their sight that looks for sex offenders using a five-point checklist: first name, last name, date of birth, gender and zip code. She said MySpace compares these identifying criteria with a national list of registered sex offenders, which they access from the identification verification company Sentinel Tech Holding.

Facebook attorney Chris Kelly told the San Francisco Chronicle the California law is a good first step but noted that it is often difficult for social networking sites to identify sex offenders without knowing how they identify themselves online.

"It's a good start," he said. "But it needs to be strengthened."

A similar law to the one being considered in California was passed in Illinois in 2008, but it doesn't go as far as one in New York State which requires sex offenders to register their e-mail addresses and online aliases with state authorities, who can then turn over the names to the companies that run the social networking sites.

San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris, who specialized in child sexual assault cases as a prosecutor, told the San Francisco Chronicle the law will create more public awareness around the issue and give law enforcement another tool.

"In my experience, these types of predators are a slimy group and they don't want to go to jail," Harris told the paper. "And what we're telling them is that if you go online and start chatting with my 12-year-old niece, you're going to jail."

  • Carlin Miller

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