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Predators in the headlines

A crime long hidden from public view that Dateline has helped bring out in the open. Chris Hansen has the latest.

To most Americans, it was upsetting news, the deputy press secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, 55-year-old Brian Doyle,  was arrested after authorities said he used his computer to strike up a sexually explicit conversation with a detective posing as a 14-year-old girl.

According to the Polk county sheriff, Doyle sent 16 movie clips of pornography. According to the sheriff, during those 16 movie clips, he would describe to her or ask her if she would engage in that kind of sexual conduct with him.

But unfortunately, the reality of a prominent citizen caught using the Internet to prey on underage kids was nothing new to Dateline.

After all, just a few months ago, “Dateline” watched as another Homeland Security employee showed up to a house, thinking he was going to meet a 13-year-old girl for a sexual encounter.

For Dateline, it all began more than a year ago when we exposed the national scandal of online sexual predators.

After that broadcast, some people in Washington D.C. took notice.

On the floor of he Senate, Sen. Majority Leader Bill Frist, said “Over the course of a three day sting operation in Riverside, California, Dateline was able to nab 50 Internet child sex predators.”

Chris Hansen, Dateline correspondent: Senator, when did this issue hit critical mass for you?Sen. Bill Frist: This didn’t really hit, to be honest, until I saw “To Catch a Predator” on the NBC “Dateline.” All of a sudden, I started seeing these faces themselves.  And I started relating it back to the fact that I’m a parent. I’ve got three children.  They’ve come up in this Internet age.

What we found in our undercover investigation, which was done in cooperation with the watchdog group Perverted-Justice,  was astonishing: just how often men were willing, even eager, to show up at a house where they thought they were meeting young teens for sex.

Now, it deems Dateline’s original series may have hit a major nerve and exposed a previously hidden epidemic.  Stories about online sexual predators are exploding in newspaper headlines, on the Internet, and on cable newschannels.

And this week, on Capitol Hill: 19-year-old Justin Berry told a Congressional committee about his journey into this sordid world, when at 13 years old, he acquired a Web camera as part of a deal with an Internet service provider.

Justin Berry (testifying on Capitol Hill): I speak from experience. For 5 years, beginning when I was 13 years old, I operated a pornographic Web site featuring images of myself floated on the Internet by Web cams.

And the predators were watching. Justin, whose story was first reported in the New York Times, said he had no shortage of grown men asking— and then paying— him to perform sexual acts in front of his Web cam.

Justin Berry: My experience is not as isolated as you may hope. This is not the story of a few bad kids whose parents paid no attention. There are hundreds of kids in the United States alone who are right now wrapped up in this horror. Within each of your Congressional districts, I guarantee there are children who have used their Web cams to appear naked online and I guarantee there are also children in your district on the Internet right now being contacted and seduced by online sexual predators.

Even though he may have seemed a willing participant, experts say he was the victim of manipulative adults who were willing to exploit children over the Internet.

Justin Berry: My thoughts seem foolish, but at 13, I believed these people were my friends. They were kind. They complimented me. They wanted to know about my day and they were endlessly patient and listening to me. Donna Rice-Hughes, “Enough is Enough,” CEO: What the Internet has done with respect to the pedophile community is that it’s provided a virtual community whereby predators and pedophiles can congregate online and they virtually validate each other and their behaviors and their fantasies.

Donna Rice-Hughes is CEO of an organization called “Enough is Enough.” She’s on a mission to make the Internet safer for children. She’s been warning about the dangers for years.  Dateline first spoke with her 11 years ago. At that time, the concern was child pornography. Now she says, the problem has grown with the Internet giving predators accessiblity, affordablity and the anonymity to feed their criminal acts.

Rice-Hughes: Now these kids are just putting all of this information online and pictures of themselves and sharing their stories and their deepest secrets.  And it’s just so easy for the predator.

And people are taking it seriously. All over the country, experts are holding safety seminars for parents, like this one held earlier this week in Columbus, Ohio. And local police departments are conducting stings of their own.

But what about the federal government? Now Sen. Frist has taken on the issue

Sen. Frist: We need to educate the parents. We need to make sure that they give appropriate oversight for their kids. We need to educate kids today.

He’s pushing for new legislation calling for more severe sentences for offenders and the first ever national database to track them.

Sen. Frist: It’s amazing we don’t have a national registry out there today. If there’s somebody in Tennessee, and you’re in Texas, you’re not gonna be able to search today in a registry that is national, searchable by zip code.

While no one believes the threat of online predators is cause for panic, Frist believes it must be taken seriously.

Hansen: Where does this rank—in your opinion, in terms of—dangers to our children?

Sen. Frist: Well, it’s high, in part because of the tremendous growth of the Internet. It has great power which is fantastic. But, on the other side of this is the destructive aspect. That opportunity is growing each and every day.