- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 12, 2003

A new Congress has been sworn in, and the sense of real and renewed purpose is flooding hearts new and old. Thatsaid, there is serious business on which we, as a compassionate Congress, must all swiftly refocus.
Specifically, President Bush and the congressional leaders of both parties have recently noted how important Internet safety is for our children. Now is the time for everyone to act on that commitment as it affects an increasingly Internet savvy generation of kids, and their real world safety on- and off-line.
Never has the problem of on-line predatory behavior been more real. Never have powerful, educational, federally supportable solutions like I-SAFE America been more critical and readily at hand. Our mission is to press these sorts of nonprofit educational solutions forward, with vigor and passion.
Consider the pervasiveness of Internet access by kids, the mounting dangers that lurk on-line in 2002, the rocketing up-tick in Internet crime and predatory behavior and now, a potential risk to our homeland security through the use of this technology. All of these cry out for new approaches. Consider then the impact of creative, technologically appropriate, educator-friendly solutions like I-SAFE America, which I have pressed as a real solution in the years head, a hands-on model for nationwide education of our children in the area of meaningful Internet safety.
As a nation, we have faced many threats, but none as quick to threaten our kids in the high-speed communication age, as ignorance of the Internet's darker side. What I-SAFE America's huge successes in one year indicate is that Congress has taken notice through savvy support of ideas that yield real and lasting results. A year ago, Congress noted that I-SAFE's mission to help parents and teachers, kids and community leaders, engaging both schoolhouse and law enforcement, to get ahead of the crime curve and protect more of our children more of the time is a necessary and vital addition to education.
But education is only half the battle. Not only must we look at these Internet safety issues through the in-school lens and educate children in the classroom, but we must also be empowering communities to take action to keep each and every family safe as kids roam the Internet at home.
For those who minimize the problem of victimization originating in Internet contacts, perhaps a few facts will help. In 2002, more than 30 million kids are estimated to be on-line, a figure projected to hit 45 million in 2003 and topping out at 77 million by 2005, according to "A Nation Online: How American Are Expanding Their Use of the Internet and the Youth Internet Safety Survey."
Pair this with the fact that 75 percent of children on-line are willing to share personal information in exchange for goods or services, according to eMarketer. And the fact that "1 in 5 teenagers" who log on say they have received unwanted sexual solicitations, according to the Crimes Against Children Research Center.
If your own personal worry factor is not high yet, consider some breaking news: 75 percent of those children solicited online were neither troubled by it, nor bothered to tell their parents last year. Only 17 percent of kids and only 11 percent of parents could name an authority to which such approaches should be reported, and while 77 percent of the targets for on-line predators were 14 and older, 22 percent were under 13, again according to the Crimes Against Children Research Center.
Nor are the trend lines for either access and targeting of children slowing. A 2000 Time/CNN poll indicated that 43 percent of children say they do not have rules about Internet use in their homes, while a Yankelovich Partners Study shows that 62 percent of parents of teenagers are unaware their children have accessed objectionable Web sites. More broadly, 90 percent of children between the ages of 5 and 17, or 48 million, now use computers and 13 million youth use Instant Messaging and 45 percent of the population now uses e-mail, says the national study, "A Nation Online: How Americans Are Expanding Their Use of the Internet, and the Pew Study" (June, 2001).
Most arresting however are the Internet crime patterns and the vulnerabilities of youth at all ages. The U.S. Customs Service now places the number of Web sites offering child pornography at 100,000. Moreover, there has been a 345 percent increase in access to these sites just between July 2001 and February 2002, according to one recent study.
Finally, as the number of children being targeted by Internet predators is increasing, the number of children reported missing is becoming shocking. According to one reputable online victimization report, "Children are reported missing at the rate of 750,000 per year, 62,500 per month, 14,423 per year or 3 per minute." The trend lines, in short, are a call for action.
I-SAFE America is the educational arm of a congressionally sponsored national effort to bring Internet safety issues and critical information that will protect kids from on-line predators and crime to schools and communities nationwide. By reaching out to tens of thousands of students and parents, law enforcement officers and community leaders, I-SAFE provides a train-the-trainer program that is complete with a comprehensive Internet safety curriculum and outreach program.
With the support of congressional leaders, I-SAFE leverages every federal education dollar to assist in bringing a real-life approach to the kids most vulnerable to on-line crime.
Now is the time for America to focus its attention on supporting Internet safety education and to build on the White House's initiative to protect our children from the dangers that lurk online. This session, Congress is stepping up to the issue of Internet safety and the kinds of educational solutions that work, such as those that I-SAFE America is so effectively delivering.
Congress and the president must join together in the effort to actively get more Internet safety programs into schools and communities so our children and thus, our families, are all safe. Working together we can make a difference. The session that lies before Congress calls for a significant commitment to this issue and a continuing commitment to such strong and effective programs as I-SAFE America, administered by the Justice Department of Justice.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican, is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and chairwoman of the House Subcommittee on International Human Rights, as well as a congressional leader in the areas of victims rights, children's safety and Internet safety.


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