Reaching Internet Predators Before They Reach Children

February 02, 2006 -- Posted at 4:00 p.m. CST

LITTLE ROCK -- Hoyt Harness has spent the past several years working for the children.

He is Arkansas' coordinator of the Internet Crimes Against Children, or ICAC, Task Force.

Working with other agency's like Little Rock's Police Department, the Arkansas State Crime Lab, and the Attorney General's office, the task force goes beyond just investigations.

"We focus on forensic support for those computers seized in investigations, as well as community, parent, child, and law enforcement awareness," said special agent, Hoyt Harness, from the Arkansas State Police.

Much of the work by the task force is done online.

Harness says the majority of complaints come from The Center for Missing and Exploited Children's Cyber tip line.

"Just because a computer is used, doesn't really change the nature of the crime. It's the same crime they have always been committing. Standard investigative techniques apply......subpoenas and search warrants. We don't necessarily have to go online for every complaint we get," said Harness.

Reaching these criminals before they reach children is top priority, and proactive parenting is the first step in avoiding a potentially deadly situation.

"Of all the places you can expect to find a child predator, whether it's a park, or outside a school yard, if your computer's in your child's bedroom.....well you can add that to the list," said Harness.

A frightening new statistic says only 25% of kids solicited for sex on the Internet tell their parents.

Of that 25%, less 10% tell police.

It's important to keep the lines of communication between parents and children open.

"If they can just think about what they are going to say to them, relax, be honest, don't be judgemental, or don't jump to conclusions, just talk about what you need to talk about with the mind set you may never have this opportunity again," said Harness.

Here are a few more tips for Internet safety in your own home.

Don't give out personal information.

Ask kids to show you their home pages, and sites they are looking at.

Know what software is available that can control what sites can be visited by kids.

Put the computer in a common area.

"Kids, or anybody else, if they think they are being watched they are less likely to take chances they know they shouldn't take," said Harness.

As a society, many of us are dependent on the Internet---this tool with limitless possibilities and few rules.

Experts say the burden is on authorities, but especially parents, to protect children as they make their way through the 21st century.