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Online Predators.Parents Beware

Posted by on Aug. 6, 2007 at 2:54 PM
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Teen Falls Victim to Online Predator
ABC News
Posted: 2007-08-05 13:26:03
Filed Under: Crime News, Nation News
(Aug. 4) - Danielle Helms' 14-year-old daughter Kristen was like so many other teenagers who logged onto social networking sites looking for their friends and looking to make new ones.

Photo Gallery: Grieving Mother Speaks Out
ABC News Danielle Helms, whose daughter fell victim to a sex predator and committed suicide, speaks out on the dangers of online networking sites.
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But now, Danielle Helms says authorities need to sound the alarm she wishes others had sounded for her.

"The Internet is a sly danger," she warns.

Child advocates have called Internet social networking sites the Sears Catalog for child predators.

Just this week, Facebook came under fire for not doing enough to protect young people. Last week, MySpace, the biggest social networking site on the internet with more than 180 million user profiles, revealed it found 29,000 convicted sex offenders on its Web site.

Kristen Helms, a star student and athlete, was seduced by a predator nearly twice her age who traveled from Texas to California to have sex with her.

And when he left, the teen was psychologically crippled.

Kristen Helms eventually revealed her secret to her mother. Danielle Helms recalls her daughter telling her that she didn't mean to fall for him emotionally and saying, "It's not your fault, mom."

And then one day, while her parents were at church, Kristen hanged herself.

"It rips your soul in half, and I will never get that day out of my mind," said Helms. "It is an agonizing thought, the way we saw our baby."

Danielle Helms and her husband called the police when they learned Kristen was being seduced by Kiley Ryan Bowers, who was 27 at the time. They took away her computer, shut down her profile and forbade her to contact Bowers.

But Kristen Helms secretly communicated with Bowers, calling him behind her parents' back and using school computers to contact him.

Policing Social Networks

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal is fighting to keep predators like Bowers from ever logging onto to a social networking site again.

"This kind of site is a predator's dream, truly a parent's nightmare but a ready opportunity -- easy access, easily disguised identity for a predator seeking prey," said Blumenthal."

Prosecutors in his state have made several arrests of convicted sex offenders with profiles online.

The thousands of sex offenders who have been caught so far are offenders that have been using their own names, so one might ask, "Are there thousands more that are using aliases?"

"There are probably tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of predators on these sites using aliases or disguised identities," says Blumenthal. "Parents should really be shocked by this exploding epidemic."

Attorneys general in all 50 states are now calling for effective age and identity verification and parental permission for minors to post profiles on social networking sites.

Preventative Measures

MySpace says it now uses a computer program that finds sex offenders on its site using a national database. Facebook has also said it is looking at outside technology.

Critics of proposed laws say there is no easy to way to screen for sex offenders who masquerade as others.

"Right now, this system is a predator's dream," says Blumenthal. "They will try to beat the system but we can improve the system to keep pace with their tricks."

Kristen's mother is determined to change the way predators operate online.

"It's what Kristen would want me to do," said Danielle. "Absolutely."

Kiley Ryan Bowers was recently convicted of child molestation. He was sentenced to nine years in a federal prison plus six years of supervised release after completing his prison term. He will also be required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.
by on Aug. 6, 2007 at 2:54 PM
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