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Accusations of online solicitation of children taken seriously

Local and federal law enforcement is constantly focusing their efforts on finding and tracking conversations online to see if it will lead them to an online predator. Before the Internet, investigations would center on individuals who used their vehicles as a means to solicit children.

But now, Wisconsin authorities are saying that social networking sites such as Facebook are being used more often to commit internet crimes against kids. Online solicitation of a minor is an offense that is associated with internet crimes and is often vigorously investigated by law enforcement. Being convicted of an internet crime can have serious consequences that can include a prison sentence or having to register as a sex offender.

While being convicted of an internet crime has serious penalties, even being simply accused of soliciting a minor can have an impact. It can be incredibly damaging to one's reputation if people begin to believe the accusations, even if they are untrue.

There are several ways that law enforcement pursues online solicitors. One way is posing as young children on different websites or chat rooms. Law enforcement believes that many online solicitors try to engage in conversation with children and youth who are more prone to respond to flattery. Another way is to investigate after allegations surface. This can involve looking at the accused person's hard drive for e-mail conversations or inappropriate pictures.

According to a local sheriff, the number of minor sexual assault cases increased since the 1980s. Now with the Internet being more accessible, accusations of online solicitation are taken very seriously by law enforcement and prosecutors.

Source: Wisconsin Rapids Tribune online, "Social networking sites can help predators lure children to abuse, authorities say," Karen Madden, 21 February 2011

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