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Congress mulls ‘cyber-molester’ bill

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Child-protective hysteric Rep. Robert Franks (Republican, New Jersey) has introduced a House bill requiring mandatory prison sentences for 'cyber-molesters' who use the Net to find underage sexual partners. The bill would call for a minimum of five years' incarceration, leaving judges with the sole option of passing sentences of up to fifteen years if circumstances warrant. The proposed federal legislation would apply to defendants who "establish a relationship with a child over the Internet and then travel across state lines for the purpose of engaging in illegal sex." The FBI reports a 550 percent increase in cases involving "high-tech child molesters" since 1998, Franks claimed. "Even when law enforcement is successful in catching these criminals, they are often given lenient sentences," he said. "The average sentence for the crime is just 18 months in jail." Franks said that judges have been "ignoring the seriousness of the offence" when a convict is otherwise law-abiding, and it is therefore necessary for Congress to choose the sentences for them. "Those sick criminals who terrorize our children, destroy their innocence and leave them scarred for life deserve to be locked away for a long time," Franks said. While we commend Franks for his eagerness to protect children from exploitation by adults, we remain convinced that the proper person to impose a criminal sentence is a judge who has presided over a case and is aware of its particulars, not a Member of Congress acting from an office on Capitol Hill. We are also uncomfortable with Franks' intention of tying federal funds for libraries to their use of Internet filtering software. Discourse and dialogue among adults simply cannot be limited to that which is appropriate for children in any society hoping to achieve a moderate level of civilisation, as America so eagerly wishes to do. We hope common sense and adult thinking will prevail on the Hill; but we recognise the severe political inconvenience to any Member who dares resist the rhetoric of child advocacy, and half forgive them if they should buckle in this, an election year. ®

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