By Cynthia M. Jeffries
The Internet may be an information highway, but parents need to be aware of the deviant detours their child can stray onto along the route.
That was the message a Jackson family and child counselor tried to reinforce Wednesday at a Stop The Hurt child sexual abuse conference.
To begin his Wednesday afternoon lecture, Paul A. Davey, a counseling psychotherapist with the Adolescence Child and Family Center in Jackson, logged onto the Internet using the word "SEX" to show his audience the kind of material that can be called up on computer screens in Mississippi and around the world.
Within a minute and a half, the computer had found more than 3,100 pictures graphically detailing bestiality, pierced genitalia, oral sex, children in sex acts and more.
"Any reasonably intelligent 8-year-old can pull this stuff up," said Mississippi assistant Attorney General Pat Flynn.
Computer cyberporn is one of the latest tools sexual deviants are using to "surf" American Online and Protegee, looking for child sex partners, Davey said. The information is created in almost every country in the world. Some of the items are also transmitted from U.S. college campuses.
"We need to educate parents who think their children are learning something useful when they may not," Davey said.
Davey urged the hundreds of counselors and health-care providers who attended his session to write lawmakers and computer software makers asking them to make a child's access to such material more difficult.
"The problem is, we can enforce what happens here on our end, but we can't legislate what happens in 140-plus countries around the world," Davey said.
Laws dealing with computer porn are new, and they can butt up against a person's right of freedom of expression, Flynn said.
It is against the law in Mississippi and federally for anyone to transmit sexual material over computer lines, Flynn said. To her knowledge, none of the sexual material on computer lines is being created in the state.
The Federal Communication Commission has some power to regulate computer lines, but because of legislative loopholes the FCC's power is almost nil, Flynn said.
Wednesday was the first day of a two-day conference filled with workshops about child sexual abuse.
The conference will continue today at the Ramada Inn Convention Center on North Gloster Street with workshops about working with offenders in outpatient settings, teaching life skills to abused adolescents, medical examinations and others.
The cost is $55 for Thursday's schedule. Registration starts at 8 a.m. with the first workshop going into session at 8:30 a.m.
This is the seventh year for the conference, which was designed to increase the knowledge and awareness of sexual abuse in Northeast Mississippi, said Dr. Linda Chidester, one of the founders of the conference, and chairwoman of publicity. Chidester is one of the few doctors in Mississippi who specializes in child sexual abuse cases.
Nationally, there has been a steady 10 percent increase in the number of reported child sexual abuse cases since 1991. Health providers and law enforcement officials in Northeast Mississippi say they are dealing with more cases as well.
Authorities are not sure if the increase means more children are being victimized or if more people are reporting the abuse.