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Alvarez preaches vigilance, offers parents spy tool to avert online sex crimes

Cook County State's Attorney AnitAlvarez attends press conference discuss new initiatives law enforcement is using investigatiprosecutiinternet-related sex crimes against children

Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez attends a press conference to to discuss new initiatives law enforcement is using in the investigation and prosecution of internet-related sex crimes against children, at Orland Park Police Department, Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013. | J.Geil/for Sun-Times Media

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Updated: October 21, 2013 2:11PM



If parents want to safeguard their kids from online sexual predators, they need to be more nosy about where their children are wandering on the Internet, two of the state’s top law enforcement officials said Thursday.

While that advice isn’t anything parents haven’t heard before, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez said her office is prepared to offer parents a free spy tool.

Speaking in Orland Park with Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to announce stepped-up efforts to raise awareness of the growing use of social media to perpetrate sex crimes, Alvarez said law enforcement, parents and educators need to “be more proactive in the ongoing battle.”

She said that prosecutors in her office have seen a “disturbing increase in sexual predators targeting children online.”

Madigan said that, similar to financial crimes and various scams that have flourished online, “sex crimes have, in fact, moved to the Internet.”

She said her office has been targeting the “worst of the worst” of peddlers of online child pornography, and that there has been a rise “in so-called ‘traveler’ cases,” where offenders make the acquaintance of a child online, then travel from other parts of the state or from outside Illinois to engage in sex with a minor.

“We have to do an enormous amount of work” to raise awareness of the issue, Madigan said.

As part of the awareness effort, Alvarez said her office will make available a monitoring software, ComputerCOP, that enables parents to surreptitiously track sites their kids have visited and block access to sites deemed by the parents as offensive. Alvarez said the software also checks “red-flagged” words associated with subjects such as pornography, drugs and hate crimes.

Alvarez’s office will make the software available, at no cost, to the public, schools and libraries via a link it is establishing on the state’s attorney’s website. Initially, 3,000 copies of the software will be distributed, said Sally Daly, a spokeswoman for Alvarez.

Hampering public awareness efforts about Internet sex crimes is what Madigan called a “generational gap,” with some parents befuddled by rapidly changing technology that their kids, and sexual predators, are so adept at using.

Alvarez noted that her “children are light years ahead of me when it comes to technology.”

Alvarez and Madigan spoke on the issue in a training room in the Orland Park Police Department on the final day of a four-day training session on Internet sex crimes targeting children. The session was sponsored by the Orland Park Police Department.

Alvarez said it was the first of its kind in Cook County, and Orland Park Police Chief Tim McCarthy said about 25 officers from departments in the Southland and elsewhere in Illinois took part.

Some of the training, Alvarez said, was meant to help officers “identify suspects likely to use social networks” to target kids.

McCarthy said parents and teachers “quite often” refer suspected online sex crimes to his department, the frequency of which has accelerated in recent years.

“It’s safe to say we have seen an increase” in investigations in this area, the chief said.

Thirty-two law enforcement agencies are part of the county’s Internet Crimes Against Children task force, and similar task forces are in place elsewhere in Illinois, receiving funding from the U.S. Department of Justice.



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