Partnership, campaign target Internet exploitation

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Internet predators beware: A new law enforcement initiative and a publicity campaign introduced Tuesday will target online predators and increase awareness of online exploitation.

Federal prosecutors Catherine Hanaway and Bradley J. Schlozman introduced local prosecutors and law enforcement officers to Missouri's Project Safe Childhood at the U.S. attorney's office in Cape Girardeau. Hanaway is the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri, and Schlozman is the U.S. attorney for the Western District.

Project Safe Childhood is a U.S. Department of Justice initiative designed to protect children from online exploitation and abuse. Its goal is to create a strong information-sharing partnership between law enforcement agencies and community organizations, including children's advocates, victim service providers, educators, and not-for-profit and social service agencies.

"This is a statewide campaign so that all the different outlets can share investigative leads, agencies can coordinate prosecution, and we can keep up to date with all the latest trends in this evolving area," Schlozman said.

In coordination with Project Safe Childhood, a public awareness campaign will deliver the message of Internet safety to parents and children. The INOBTR or "I Know Better" campaign is designed to increase public awareness of online exploitation.

Steven Schankman, founder of Contemporary Productions, a St. Louis-based show promotion company, donated $100,000 to start the INOBTR campaign and is working with Missouri businesses to raise funds and support.

According to Schankman, the INOBTR campaign is unique to Missouri. The campaign will launch an official Web site in early 2007 to serve as a resource for providing information and programs geared toward eradicating online predators.

He said he has spoken with entertainers who will provide public service announcements on television and radio for the INOBTR campaign, although he declined to name the entertainers Tuesday.

"This will become Missouri's most comprehensive communication campaign working with Project Safe Childhood to unite and empower our state and better protect our children," he said.

Hanaway said the FBI is about to begin an undercover operation in Missouri in hopes of tracking down online predators who share child pornography on peer-to-peer Web sites such as Kazaa or Limewire.

"We want these predators to know we are looking for them, we're going to find them and we will prosecute them to the full extent," she said.

Tammy Gwaltney, director of the Southeast Missouri Network Against Sexual Violence, is excited about Project Safe Childhood and the INOBTR campaign. "This is going to be another tool that we can use to better protect our children," she said.

Each year the NASV helps about 600 Southeast Missouri children who are victims of sexual crimes. In the past year, six children were victims of some type of online exploitation, Gwaltney said.

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