Wanda English Burnett - Editor
In our society, 16 seems to be a magical number.
Its the age when one can obtain a drivers license,
perhaps start dating and, according to Indiana State Law, make
the decision to become sexually active legally.
Ironically, someone 16-years-old cannot legally purchase or
use tobacco products or alcohol - but, can make a decision to
have sexual contact that could lead to permanent physical or
Guest speaker Assistant United States Attorney Steven DeBrota
told those gathered for a SIRPOR (Southeastern Indiana Regional
Probation Officer Roundtable) event that the Internet is a great
tool and on the flip side, can have a destructive effect at
the same time.
At the February 28 SIRPOR meeting held at the Tyson Library
in Versailles, those in attendance included probation officers
and personnel from a seven county area. Judges and prosecutors
were invited to the presentation DeBrota gave on Project Safe
Childhood Crime Against Children, Computer Evidence and the
The two-and-a-half hour session left those in attendance with
no doubt about the reality of sexual predators in Indiana and
yes, right here in Ripley County.
The accessibility of the Internet has opened a whole new set
of complications for law enforcement who deal with sex crimes
against children. Its not local anymore. One sexual predator
can easily translate into hundreds in a matter of minutes as
they share child pornography across the web. There are no boundaries
or customs to cross, as pedophiles literally span countries
with their evil deeds.
While DeBrota says his agency is fighting child exploitation
cases with all they have - more needs to be done. He noted that
the most dangerous predators are usually savvy to the Internet
and can cover their tracks to some degree. On the other hand,
specialists in computer crime, such as himself, are breaking
DeBrota is the Special Emphasis Coordinator for child exploitation
cases, the chairperson of the Indiana Interagency Environmental
Crimes Task Force, and the chairperson of the Project Safe Childhood
A professor at Indiana University, where he received a law degree
in 1989, DeBrota lectures and is an expert in the investigation
and prosecution of crimes on the Internet. He has trained agents,
prosecutors and members of the public locally, nationally and
Coming to Ripley County for the SIRPOR organization was especially
significant to Ripley County Chief Probation Officer Shannon
Schmaltz. We are honored to have him present this information
to our group, Schmaltz noted. The SIRPOR organization
was formed by Schmaltz and others in 2004 and allows county
agencies to come together to make a stronger impact on the communities
Schmaltz feels Ripley County is fortunate to have the type of
informative seminar that will assist those who deal with crimes
Information was disseminated at the presentation that was not
made public due to its nature. Those in attendance gleaned ideas
and techniques to make their performance more effective.
DeBrotas achievements were outlined in a short biography.
He received the United States Department of Justice Directors
Award in 2000 for superior performance. Last year the Anti-Sexual
Violence Movement named DeBrota Outstanding Prosecutor
of the Year. His achievements and honors are not what
is important to DeBrota. His focus is on taking predators off
the streets, or Internet, in this case, and seeing them incarcerated
for years, maybe even life.
Its not enough to put the computer in your home
in a general location such as the family room, DeBrota
told the group. While thats a general safety tip, its
not enough by itself to protect children, according to the expert.
There is a solution to keeping kids safe - many times its
as simple as having dinner with your kids and talking to them.
Not one night, but stay in tune with your children, DeBrota
Many times children actively seek someone to have a relationship
with. They are easy targets because they are willing,
DeBrota explained. These consensual victims are reluctant to
talk with law enforcement emphatically asserting they are in
charge. The bottom line is - until they are 16-years-old, they
do not have the legal right to make such a decision. And, rightfully
so, noted DeBrota, who said age has everything to do with developmental
ability to make decisions. Sometimes kids just want attention
and affection - something hopeful predators are willing to offer
in exchange for their sexual gratification.
In the age of electronic connection, those in the Y
generation, (up to 22 years of age) are plugged in 24/7. Kids
have all sorts of computer access, electronic gadgets, and cellular
phones that do everything imaginable to keep them connected
with the flick of a button. Predators have the same technology
and new agencies (federal and state) are being formed and are
in the process of shutting down those who prey on the innocence
What can parents do to guard against Internet predators?
Sgt. Noel Houze Jr. PIO for the Indiana State Police Versailles
Post, gave some safety tips and agreed with DeBrota about staying
plugged in to your children through old fashioned
Keep your computer in a common location.
Do not allow children to have a computer with Internet
connection in their room.
Know your childrens passwords to various accounts,
such as email, My Space, etc.
Tell your children not to give personal information.
Do not allow children to post photographs of themselves.
Photos could be copied and altered.
Check your web browsers history to see what sites
your children are visiting.
If you suspect your child has been targeted by an Internet
predator, contact your local police immediately.
Sgt. Houze notes, Remember, you can be anyone you want
to be on the Internet. That new friend your child has just made
on the Internet might be another typical teenager looking for
new friends. Or it might just be an adult sex offender shopping
for his/her next victim. He emphasized that parents should
listen to their teen when they share information about a suggestive
website. Dont immediately take Internet privileges
away, teens can find an alternative way to get online,
he said. Instead, Sgt. Houze suggests talking about the site
with the teen and call the police when in doubt.
If parents have questions or concerns about Internet safety,
they can contact Sgt. Houze or Trooper Jesse Combs of the Indiana
State Police at the Versailles Post at 689-5000 or 1-800-566-6704
(in Indiana only).