Over the weekend I had a long and interesting conversation with TJ Hart of Sky 97.3 News Talk Radio out of Gainsville, Florida. TJ is the News Director, and also a hands on reporter, he is very much ‘the man’ when it comes to breaking news on the Haleigh Cummings story, and is a frequent guest on HLN.

Somehow our conversation strayed into a general discussion about Child molesters and child abductions in Florida. TJ has been with Sky for several years and painted a pretty bleak picture. Horror story after horror story has broken over the past decade. Jessica Lundsford, Trenton Duckett, Carli Bruschi, Caylee Anthony, and Haleigh Cummings are the stories that we remember, but there are many others that have come and gone.

I asked the question, why Florida? In my excursions to Florida I have also thought of the state as a very conservative place. TJ explained that my perception comes from the fact that my experiences have been the big cities, however much of Florida is rural, and fairly sparsely populated. It is this sparse population combined with cheap living and of course great climate that attracts convicted sex offenders. The sparse population makes it easy for a convicted sex offender to comply with rules governing avoiding schools, playgrounds, or other places where children can be found.

Of course the sparse population is also an asset to the repeat offender, a child can be held and abused with little chance of discovery. Another disturbing statistic is that many researchers believe that only one in three molestations are actually reported.

I was shocked today when I heard about Operation Orange Tree, this 10 week multi department investigation has resulted in 77 Floridians being arrested on child pornography charges. Those arrested varied in age from 17 to 83.

If this was not disturbing enough, 17 of those arrested had in their possession a ‘how to’ video. This video contains information about how best to molest children from infants to teens, and offers strategies for avoiding detection!

What can we do to battle this ugly trend? The Internet has proved to be a boon to these sexual predators, and the emergence of ‘social networking’ sites has created a very veritable virtual supermarket in which these people can hunt for their next victim.

Should the penalties for sex offenders be increased? Should they be more tightly supervised after release? Should they be banned from using the Internet?

I do not know the answer, but I do know it is high time that we all start looking for a solution.

Simon Barrett

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