As I have written here before, the only way we are ever going to solve the online predator problem is to get serious about weeding out and prosecuting the vermin who commit crimes against children. As I pointed out last week in my response to Sen. Joe Lieberman's online child protection manifesto, regulating Internet websites or online communications to solve this problem avoids the real issue: The bad guys don't serve enough time and are out on the streets (and behind keyboards) because of our government's failure to adequately punish them.
What got me thinking about all this again was this new Wired report by Kevin Poulsen. He explains how he helped New York law enforcement officials track down and apprehend a sex offender by writing a program that searched MySpace's 1 million-plus profiles for registered sex offenders. Here's what struck me about the specific perpetrator that they nabbed, a 39-year-old man named Andrew Lubrano:
"Lubrano was sentenced to three years probation in 1987 for sexual abuse against a 7-year-old boy, according to police. In 1988, he got another probation term for second-degree sex abuse. In 1995, he earned a 3 to 9 year prison term for sexually abusing two boys he'd been babysitting, one 11, the other 9. The parole board turned Lubrano down three times, and he was cut loose in September 2004 largely unsupervised, having served every day of his nine-year max. By November 2005 he was on MySpace, making friends."
When I read stuff like this, I literally start screaming at my computer: "Why? Why? Why?" Why in the hell is this guy on the streets? Why is he even able to get online at all when he should be sitting in a jail cell? Why is it MySpace's problem to solve instead of the government's? And why is it my responsibility to have to monitor both MySpace and sex offender registries to see if these creeps might be preying on my children?
I have said it many times before but I will say it again: The most essential role that government has is to protect people from harm, especially helpless kids. It is not the job of private companies to enforce law and order or bring bad guys to justice. That is the government's job. And they aren't doing a very good job of it when it comes to online child safety. Here is the sobering fact that I keep pointing to in order to prove my point: A 2003 Department of Justice study reported that the average sentence for child molesters was approximately seven years and, on average, they were released after serving just three of those seven years.
Does that statistic make you as sick to your stomach as it does me? If you have two young children like me, I bet it does. When our government is only putting people who viciously hurt innocent children behind bars for just seven years and then letting them out after just three then our government has failed us at a very fundamental level.
Worse yet, policymakers then point fingers at everyone else and scold Internet companies and ISPs for not doing enough to protect children from predators, all the while conveniently ignoring the government's own failed policies that allow those predators to be on the streets and behind keyboards in the first place! It's not "market failure" at work when child predators are lurking behind keyboards, it is government failure in the extreme. And we are never going to solve this problem until we start hunting down the bad guys and locking them up for a long, long time.