Wagner’s proposed bill would require social media companies to give police identifying information about suspected child predators.
WASHINGTON — Representative Ann Wagner recently became the latest member of Congress to try to do something to stop online predators from targeting children.
She introduced the Child Online Safety Modernization Act on Nov. 6, the same day the I-Team reported on one family’s struggle following the damage an online predator caused their 11-year-old daughter.
“I applaud her for coming forward with the story,” Wagner, a Republican who represents Missouri’s 2nd congressional district, said of the mother who spoke to the I-Team, asking to keep her identity concealed to protect her daughter.
Cases involving online sexual abuse of children are soaring in the St. Louis area and nationwide.
The most recent study on the issue estimates in 2021, about one in six minors reported sharing their own images. That’s one in seven children between the ages of 9 and 12, and one in five between the ages of 13 and 17.
And this isn’t the first time a politician has tried to do something about it.
Countless scenes of confrontations between legislators and social media executives have played out on local and national news outlets for years.
A recent piece in The Atlantic by Columbia law professor Tim Wu suggests there have been 39 hearings about the issue on Capitol Hill since 2017, at least nine of which were dedicated solely to cracking down on online child predators.
Yet Wu concluded not a single piece of legislation got passed as a result.
He titled his piece: “Why Congress Keeps Failing to Protect Kids Online”.
The I-Team asked Wagner what she thinks will be different about what she’s proposing.
“I think it’s pieces like this that you’re doing,” Wagner said. “We need more people to come forward to both media, and also more importantly, to their members of Congress and to politicians to say, ‘This is important.’”
Wagner’s proposed legislation would:
- Require social media companies to give police URLs, emails and IEP addresses to help police track down suspected child predators by the devices they use.
- Require the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to retain tips about potential online child sexual abuse for one year. Right now, the agency keeps the information for 90 days, and Wagner says police can’t keep up with the exploding number of tips coming in. She believes the extra retention time will help ensure more tips get to investigators. “Right now, law enforcement is not getting enough information on about 50% of the cases,” Wagner said.
- Replace the phrase, “child pornography” with “child sexual abuse material,” in about 50 federal laws.
“There’s probably at least 50 places in the statutes where we need to change the word child pornography to CSAM, the acronym for child sexual abuse material because it’s a misnomer, these children haven’t given consent,” Wagner said.
Wagner’s bill still has months of meetings and rounds of approvals to go through before it could become law.
That’s why she says parents and guardians need to take action at home.
The mother the I-Team interviewed said she and her husband thought they had prepared their children for online predators, having them watch television shows about the dangers of talking to strangers online as well as family discussions.
The man who targeted her daughter used an anonymous messaging app called Kik to start sending messages to the child, pretending to be another girl of the same age.
She said she and her husband constantly checked their daughter’s cellphone for pictures and videos, but didn’t realize she had hidden the app in a folder on her cellphone among other benign apps.
It all unraveled when she caught a glimpse of the glow from a cellphone coming from her daughter’s bedroom doorway past the family’s school night rules.
She pulled back her daughter’s covers and found her recording herself.
“I just saw message after message and video after video that she had been sending,” the mother said.
It sent the family into paranoia.
“We didn’t know what this person knew about us, so we took apart her room,” she recalled. “We basically treated her like a criminal.
“We handled it completely wrong at first and later that day she had taken a thumb tack to her wrist. And so we had to take her to the local hospital and have her checked out.”
The family, who lives several states away, cannot identify their daughter’s predator by name. They signed a nondisclosure agreement as part of a civil lawsuit. The settlement from that lawsuit is now paying for the therapy the victim and her family still needs – two years after the predator invaded their lives.
“She is not good,” the mother said. “She’s impulsive, with boys. She snuck out with a couple of boys overnight. Her grades are terrible.”
The mother said she wishes she could go back to that moment when she first saw that blue glow coming from her daughter’s bedroom door.
“I would have went in that room and scooped her up and told her, ‘Everything’s going to be okay,’” she said. “I would have just not been so angry with her and not blame her how I did.”
Resources for parents and guardians
The FBI’s website has a page dedicated to raising awareness about sextortion and available resources to help victims.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children offers instructions to take down nudes circulating on certain social media platforms.
Listen to the full interview here: