RICHMOND — Virginia teachers would warn children about Internet predators and offer students Web safety instruction under a measure that’s expected to pass the Virginia General Assembly.
“Young teens are often an easy target,” said Delegate William H. Fralin Jr., a father of three who authored the bill. It was unanimously approved by the Senate Education and Health Committee yesterday.
The Roanoke Republican said Internet safety is a “growing issue” in Virginia.
His bill would allow schools to develop lesson plans that warn children about giving personal information or posting photographs of themselves on Web sites such as MySpace.com.
“Kids post profiles that include pictures, their likes and dislikes and where they go to school, and all of that information put together can lead people to figure out who you are and where you live,” he said.
Mr. Fralin said students should be cautious when communicating with fellow teens on the Internet, and pointed to several cases in which sexual predators posed as youngsters to find victims.
Mr. Fralin’s bill would also allow school officials to teach students about Internet “bullying,” an increasingly common practice among youngsters. Under the measure, teachers and school librarians would be encouraged to work with local police to develop a safety program.
The full Senate is expected to pass the measure by next week. The House approved the bill 91-9 last week.
Kevin Hall, a spokesman for Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, said the Democrat likes the bill. “The governor thinks our children should be given some common-sense tools to protect themselves on the Internet,” he said.
A spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia also said the measure sounded like a good idea.
Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr., chairman of the Senate Education and Health Committee, said the measure makes sense to protect young adults like Taylor Behl, the Virginia Commonwealth University student whose remains were found in a rural area last fall.
“Hearing the horror stories of that beautiful young lady makes me think of my three daughters,” the Winchester Republican said. “There is tremendous room for abuses on the Internet.”
Miss Behl, 17, of Vienna, Va., disappeared Sept. 5. Her remains were found behind an abandoned farmhouse in Mathews County a month later. The cause of death has not been released because of a lack of forensic evidence.
Benjamin Fawley, an amateur photographer, has been charged with murder. Fawley, 38, told authorities that Miss Behl died accidentally during a consensual sexual encounter in her Ford Escort.
Miss Behl and Fawley met in Richmond, not on the Internet, but lawmakers and police use Miss Behl as an example of the dangers of the Web.
Miss Behl posted her photograph and her profile on MySpace.com and LiveJournal.com. Richmond police used those sites to help investigate Miss Behl’s disappearance.
Last fall, a 17-year-old Richmond girl disappeared after she met a man on similar Web sites. The man, Jeffrey Sharp, 57, was arrested on charges of luring a minor on the Internet. The girl was not injured.
After both cases, Richmond police gave a youth Internet-safety course as a pilot program.