Lisa J. Barstow
Director, External Affairs
Massachusetts Family Institute
Remarks to Morality in Media Event
October 26, 2000
Good evening. I want to thank Morality in Media
Massachusetts for hosting this important event and for asking me to help set
the stage, if you will, on the importance of making the Internet safer for
Let me first say that given the nature of this expansive medium, I do NOT
believe you can make the Internet "safe" for children. But I AM
confident that the Internet can be made "safer" for children, if
policy makers, parents, schools and libraries do the responsible thing and
insist on putting child safety first.
So to help set the stage tonight I want to outline some of specific threats
against children's safety - threats we at the Massachusetts Family Institute
take very seriously. Then, I'll share briefly about MFI's initiatives in
response to these dangers.
One of the most prevalent Internet dangers is when adults lure and abduct
children via relationships formed over the Net. Let me just walk through a
handful of the numerous recent local reports on this issue:
ï A 42-year old Whitman man was recently arraigned in Ohio after he flew
there to allegedly have sex with a young girl he met on the Internet
ï A 23-year old Salisbury man who repeatedly raped a 12-year old Lowell girl
admitted to luring his victims via the Internet. Other of his victims ranged
in age from 12-15.
ï A 14-year old girl from Whitman - again from
Whitman - was the victim of stalking and attempted rape by an adult male who
concealed his true identity and befriended the girl in a chatroom.
He was so fixated on the child that the 29-year old law-school student moved
into an apartment blocks from her home just prior to the attack.
ï A 43-year old Stow man was charged with using the
Internet to lure a 13-year old girl into having sex.
ï And, of course, the tragic murder of 10-year old Jeffrey Curley, who's
killer had visited the Website of the North American Man Boy Love Association
(NAMBLA) just hours before the crime occurred.
In a growing number of child sex cases, pedophiles have admittedly fed their
evil and criminal desires through pornographic Internet Websites. And while
law enforcement officials are rightfully creating bureaus and agencies to
investigate cyber crimes, there are relatively few laws on the books today
that protect children from dangerous content or people on the Net.
A June 2000 study by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
found that one in five young people who used the Internet regularly were
exposed to unwanted sexual solicitation. One-in-four encountered unwanted
pornography in the last year. The study went on to say that one in 33 were "aggressively" approached, meaning they
were contacted by phone or mail, or given money or gifts in exchange for
What the Center also recognized - based on their past research - is that
about 4 in ten children don't report such incidents. So the actual numbers of
child sexual stalking are much higher.
Evidence also suggests that younger children, ages 10-13 especially, become
severely distressed when they are unwittingly exposed to sexual images or
message via the Web.
Another recent case of the destructive and exploitative use of the Internet
right here in Massachusetts involves two college students whose
Somerville-based Web business allegedly hosted child pornographic sites that
victimized boys and girls as young as five years old.
Because of the business owners admitted lax oversight as to who posts
material on their service, they said they were not
surprised that child porn was found. These Internet entrepreneurs profited by
hosting such sites on their service, yet may not be
guilty of any crime. The Attorney General's office in investigating.
This case, along with a string of others, highlights the need for law
enforcement, business and trade organizations, community leaders,
cyber-detectives, parents, educators and librarians to be ever vigilant when
it comes to understanding the very real dangers of the Internet and taking
meaningful steps to hold all parties accountable for the content they make
The Massachusetts Family Institute became increasingly concerned about how,
when and where children were accessing the Internet - what they could see and
the dangers to which they unwittingly expose themselves. We wanted parents to
have a better understanding of Internet threats so they could open a dialogue
at home, and establish family practices to safeguard their precious ones.
However, even when parents do a good job of monitoring their children's Web
access at home, we knew that there were other venues where their kids may
have access to dangerous or prurient materials: Specifically, their local
school or library.
The Family Research Council, a pro-family Washington DC policy institute and
my organization's affiliate, has published an annual report called,
"Dangerous Access" that details hundreds and hundreds of real-life
horror stories of children accessing lurid materials at their local
It further evidences the need for libraries to take a more responsible public
role in safeguarding, not only minor children and other library patrons, but also
their employees, from sexually-explicit materials that create a hostile
learning and working environment - at the taxpayer's expense.
In various cities across the nation, library employees have complained about
having to "police" patrons who - in full view - surf to
pornographic sites. Patrons often times leave lurid web pages open on the
screen at public computer terminals.
Many library leaders nationally, and in Massachusetts, have supported the use
of blocking software to protect patrons and employees. But, unfortunately,
this is the exception, not the rule.
A case not too long ago at the Thayer Library in Braintree, for example, -
brought to light by the Patriot Ledger newspaper - involved a man who would
spend hours at the library viewing child pornography.
Employees recognized the man from news report as someone who had been
arrested the prior year on child pornography charges. They complained to the
library's director about the situation but he would not back down from the
library's stated policy not to filter its Internet terminals.
The newspaper's coverage of this situation brought the issue front and center
of a local debate. As it turned out, Patriot Ledger readers, responding to an
on-line poll, overwhelmingly supported the prospect of public libraries using
filters to prevent such incidents in the future.
Its important for parents to know that the American
Library Association - the chief industry lobbying group of America's local,
public libraries - supports unlimited, unfettered access to all information
found on the Net, regardless of age, as a free speech principal. This,
however, is inconsistent with responsible public policy and the will of the
Earlier this year the Kaiser Family Foundation, National Public Radio, and the
Kennedy School of Government released a study that suggested the vast
majority of people supported governmental intervention to protect children
from harmful Internet content.
So where do we stand in Massachusetts on safeguarding children in our public
In a recent survey by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners:
ï 99 percent of all Massachusetts libraries offer Internet access,
ï 16 percent of libraries employ filtering software to block out selected
content - two-thirds of that 16 percent who filter do so only in children's
MFI saw the cases of child victimization rising and made it a strategic
priority to help educate families. We believed that when parents broadly were
informed of the dangers, they would push for a tidal wave of changes, so that
responsible, child-protection policies will be set in motion - locally and
Last May, the Massachusetts Family Institute, released the Massachusetts
Family Guide to Internet Safety. Copies are available on the information
table. The Guide is a resource to help educate parents, caretakers, teachers,
community leaders and others about what could go wrong when kids surf
unsupervised on the Net.
It also provides practical information to help parents understand the medium
and set good, enforceable ground rules for Internet use.
We were pleased that Community Newspaper Company partnered with MFI to
reproduce the Guide in their parenting publication called "Parent and
Baby Journal" and further promoted it in their 120-plus newspapers
throughout eastern Massachusetts.
I've also talked with a number of other media outlets on the critical need
for parents to be involved and educated on Internet dangers.
MFI received the support of many state legislators who have made the Guide
available to their constituents.
It is our hope that through these and other channels, parents will become
more aware of how to protect their children. We also urge schools and
libraries to develop strict and responsible Internet policies to protect
minors from harm.
As a starting point, MFI believes that all school and library computers where
any minor child has access should be equipped with filtering software to weed
out the most egregious and obscene Websites from a child's view.
Legislation has been introduced at both the federal and state level to
integrate filters into public school and library Internet terminals. MFI
supports such initiatives. Some well-intended advocacy groups, as well as
some school superintendents, do not support such legislation believing it
infringes on their right to local control, among other issues.
However, MFI believes it is a necessary first step to create an environment
that recognizes Internet dangers and provides a base-line of protection for
children against pornography and the thousands of sexual predators lurking on
The Internet, more than any other forum in history, has heightened the
likelihood that children will be victims of direct or indirect sexual assault
- by cyberstalkers who threaten their life and
well-being; by stumbling onto dangerous, illegal or obscene content that will
forever alter a child's view of his or her world; or by Internet
entrepreneurs who profit by exploiting them.
As the guardians of our children, we simply must do a better job of
recognizing Internet dangers, and holding businesses, libraries, schools and
parents accountable to make sure that children can learn and benefit from
this remarkable technology without fear of harm.
Tonight's next speakers, Officers Denehy and Rotondi and Dwight Duncan will provide greater detail on
what the law and law enforcement can do to help families surf safely.
Thanks for your attention.
Please review our other important information:
I: BASIC INTERNET SAFETY RULES FOR THE FAMILY
By Safety Officer, Laurence J. Rotondi
II: INTERNET SAFETY TIPS FOR YOUTHS
By Safety Officer, Laurence J. Rotondi
III: CHAT ROOMS AND THE WORLD WIDE NET
By Safety Officer Laurence J. Rotondi
IV: TRACKING YOUR KIDS INTERNET ACTIVIITES
By Safety Officer Laurence J. Rotondi and Joseph Denehy