The Internet plays an unfortunate role in child exploitation and human trafficking.
Craigslist.org, the dominant online classified ad service, acts as a primary hub for prostitution and the illegal sex trade.
Law enforcement, including the Federal Way police, even use Craigslist as a tool for sting operations. At a recent forum on human trafficking presented by State Sen. Tracey Eide, a Federal Way officer described one Internet-fueled bust: An 18-year-old prostitute negotiated a deal with an undercover officer whose “date” ended up being a 13-year-old runaway.
Laws cannot stop human trafficking and prostitution via the Internet, but as Eide put it during that Oct. 23 forum sponsored by Soroptimist International: “We can make it damn difficult for them.”
Indeed, the tide may be turning when it comes to protecting children from online harm.
Last week, Washington state Attorney General Rob McKenna joined an agreement with Craigslist as well as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in an effort to reduce illegal sex activities. The agreement involves attorney generals from 41 states as well as Guam and the District of Columbia.
The agreement requires Craigslist users to provide a valid phone number and pay a fee with a valid credit card when posting ads for erotic services. Craigslist will donate the proceeds to charity.
At the very least, the requirements will make it more difficult to post illegal ads — and make it easier to prosecute violators.
McKenna discussed strides made in youth Internet safety Nov. 5 at the Federal Way Chamber of Commerce membership luncheon. In 2007, McKenna helped launch a task force that targets legislation and safety awareness regarding child pornography and unlawful contact with minors.
In addition to Craigslist, social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook have raised concerns over protecting children from communications by sex predators. Name and age identification of site users represent the “Holy Grail of Internet safety for kids,” McKenna said Wednesday.
Aside from the work by Eide and McKenna to protect children online, involvement has also reached the local level.
Federal Way resident Kelly Maloney is the founder of Redstarhs.com, a social networking site for local high school students. Maloney’s journey to increase Internet safety for minors began about four years ago, when her then-14-year-old daughter was cyber-bullied.
Maloney recently submitted ideas to the Internet Safety Technical Task Force regarding age verification on social networking sites. She currently awaits approval on a patent for her proposed solution. Last month, Maloney also sought support from the Federal Way School District. Although the school district has not yet jumped on board due to liability concerns, Maloney hopes state lawmakers can draft a bill that would give school districts immunity.
“What would be ideal is if the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction got on board and said ‘Yes, the school districts can do this,’” Maloney said, noting that parental involvement is the key to her mission’s success.
The Mirror lauds these efforts to protect Washington state’s children from online exploitation. The Mirror also encourages residents to do their part in making cyberspace a safer place for all.