Pedophiles love Orlando

By PHIL LONG Herald Staff Writer

Sexual predators are stalking children on the Internet like never before, a

Florida Department of Law Enforcement agent told a congressional

subcommittee in Washington on Friday.

Central Florida has a unique child exploitation problem, said Doug Rehman,

an Orlando-based FDLE agent.

''As the No. 1 destination in the United States,'' he said, ''there are

large numbers of pedophiles who travel to Orlando on business or vacations.

Investigations have shown that it is common for traveling pedophiles to

seek out child victims in Orlando well in advance of their trips.''

 

More than half of all children ages 7 to 12 -- more than six million -- use

the Internet, added U.S. Rep. Bill McCollum, R-Orlando, who chaired the

subcommittee meeting. That number is expected to triple in five years.

 

As Internet access increases, McCollum said, so does the difficulty of

protecting children from its dark side: information on everything from how

to commit suicide to how to find an estimated 72,000 pornography Web sites.

 

''There is no question the problem is worse than most people think,''

McCollum said.

''Perhaps the worst side effect of on-line child exploitation is that it is

self-perpetuating,'' Rehman told the subcommittee. ''I have arrested

several computer pedophiles who would likely never have engaged in child

exploitation had they not gone on-line.''

 

''Schoolyards and playgrounds have been the traditional hunting grounds,

with the malls coming into vogue during the '90s,'' Rehman said. ''Today,

cyberspace is the child's hangout. This provides the pedophile with

virtually limitless possibilities for victims and the ability to prowl

anonymously from home with virtual safety from authorities.''

 

McCollum said that federal sentencing guidelines need to be tightened to

make sure pedophiles get sufficient jail time for their convictions. Next

spring, the House will take up spending bills that might provide more money

for police programs, like the FBI's task force called ''Innocent Images,''

that fight child exploitation. Rehman serves on that task force.

 

Florida is one of only three states where it is illegal to contact or

communicate with a child for the purpose of exploiting the child sexually.

Illinois and Oklahoma have similar laws and other states are considering

them, McCollum said.

Rehman and other speakers urged Congress to pay for new law-enforcement

programs and training on how to investigate and prosecute child

exploitation cases; ensure long sentences for predators convicted in

Internet cases; and increase minimum mandatory sentences to 10 years for

second offenses.

 

''Never before has there been a better time to be a pedophile than today,''

Rehman said. ''Both child pornography and victims are readily available via

the computer.''

 

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