News stories are covering the court’s dismissal of a suit against MySpace over another sexual assault that occurred when two young people, a young girl from Texas and a man, met in person after having made contact on the MySpace internet site. The man was charged with a sexual assault crime and sentenced to prison.
Developmentally, adolescents seek out acceptance from peers and place greater emphasis in that direction during this phase of their lives. Often times, the adolescent will engage in risk taking activity to achieve this acceptance from someone outside the family. This phenomenon occurs in many forms. Family influence, though responsible for the development of moral code and identification, figures less prominently in the social development of an adolescent. This is a temporary phase in the lives of children. However, it is a phase at which the adolescent is most vulnerable to harm from outside influences. The key is protecting the adolescent until young adulthood when more responsible decision-making begins to occur.
The sex crime in this court case, as others before it, illustrates the need for the development of public policy that increases penalties against predators that use the internet as a tool to commit crimes against other people. Penalties for these crimes should automatically carry harsher sentencing when internet is a factor in a case. Because perpetrators are looking to commit this crime using a tool that increases their victim pool; it no longer is a crime against one person, it is plotting a crime against masses of potential victims, including all of our children.
This case also emphasizes that our children need censorship and supervision to protect them from the danger they face as they seek to socialize with people they meet from the internet. An additional feature to protect minors may include mandatory parental identifiers to join websites, even for children over the age of 14. This feature would make parents responsible for the activity of their child while on the internet. Parental identifiers may be included with the membership or the membership is denied. Audit trails will show when parents monitor their child’s activity on websites including, but not limited to MySpace. Parents are not absolved of the responsibility to monitor the activity of their children on the internet. While some may make the case that there is an intrusion of privacy or a barrier to the self-expression of the child; others may make the case that there is moral neglect when a child is allowed to surf the net into questionable territories that is perceivably an obvious harm. Somewhere therein is the answer.