A bill aimed at strengthening penalties for Internet sexual predators won approval from the full House Wednesday.
Senate Bill 1479, by State Senator Jim Wilson, (D-Tahlequah) and Rep. Purcy Walker, (D-Elk City) increases the punishment for child predators using modern technology to sexually solicit minors, making the crime a felony and increasing the sentence to 10 years in prison.
The bill now goes back to the Senate.
“The Legislature is sending a strong message to these people that their activities won’t be tolerated and will be punished,” said Wilson, chairman of the Senate Tourism and Wildlife Committee.
Law enforcement officials believe as many as 50,000 sexual predators are on-line at any given moment, and that one in five children who use computer chat rooms have been approached by a pedophile.
The bill also adds a defined list of communication devices used by child predators that will now be illegal to use for sexual solicitation, including cell phone text messaging and computer instant messaging.
In addition, the bill creates an Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) unit under the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation.
The ICAC unit would be responsible for investigating Internet crimes committed against children, including, but not limited to, offenses related to child pornography and solicitation of minors for pornography, prostitution or sex-related offenses.
The unit would also be in charge of promoting safe Internet use among children and their parents by various media or printed material campaigns or by offering educational programs to schools or communities throughout the state.
“Predators often use the Internet as a way to find children and do harm to them,” Wilson said. “Law enforcement officials need more tools to battle these individuals. This bill gives them that help.