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April 10, 2006 -
Chief Investigator Paul Hamilton awarded Certificate of Achievement by NCMEC for "dedication to the welfare of children."

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Internet Safety: A Primer for Parents
By Marie Wolf, Long Island Parenting News

Communication – worldwide, 24 hours a day, at our fingertips – made possible by an infinite number of interconnected computer networks. The Internet has categorically changed the way we live. Introduced more than 30 years ago as a way for the government to store data, and scientists to share findings with one another, it steadily evolved into a commercial entity, bringing personal computers and convenience into the homes of millions.

Now, we can find what we need with the stroke of a key – from bargain deals on family vacations to breaking news on world issues. We can grocery shop in cyberspace and pay our bills electronically. Children love to log on, too. They can find homework help in a flash or amuse themselves by visiting Web sites where they can create virtual pets or print out coloring pages.

Sooner or later, though, the entertainment value wanes, and as kids become more social, they begin to rely on the computer to socialize with classmates after school or explore mature subject matter in chat rooms. At this stage, it’s all about instant messaging, ever-growing buddy lists and profiles – where sharing too much personal information may lead to danger. Experts say this is the point at which parents must step in and get savvy about cyberspace.

The Facts
  • Almost one in five kids were approached sexually over the Internet in the last year. The majority of the victims were ages 14 to 17, but nearly one quarter of those solicited were kids 10 to 13 years old.
  • Ninety-seven percent of those sexual solicitations came from strangers who approached kids in chat rooms or through instant messages.

Even more telling are facts gathered in a 2003-2004 survey conducted by i-SAFE America (a government-funded group that works with schools to educate and keep kids safe online). Of the 19,000 students surveyed in grades five to eight:

  • Fifty-five percent have willingly shared personal information (name, age, sex) over the Internet.
  • Ten percent have had face-to-face contact with someone they met online.

Clearly, parents need to educate their kids early on. “You need to catch kids around second or third grade. Once they are in seventh, eighth and ninth – they don’t want to listen,” says Steve Treglia of the Nassau County District Attorney’s office. As the Crime Unit’s Chief of Technology, Treglia investigates Internet crimes ranging from underage credit card use to pedophile activity. Through the DA’s online pedophile sting operation, 21 arrests have been made since 2001. Of those, a local eye doctor and a city corrections officer were both found to have been sexually preying on kids via the Internet.

“Parents need to get knowledgeable as soon as their children start to use the computer,” urges Treglia.

With that in mind, here’s what you need to know.

Screen Name
This is your child’s online identity. Depending on the parental controls you set, it gives him access to e-mail, instant messenger, chat rooms and more. Guide your child in choosing a name that is fun, safe and not provocative. A 13-year-old girl from Suffolk County says she lost her online privileges when her mother discovered that her screen name was “ILuvBoyz.”

This is a feature offered by an Internet Service Provider (ISP) such as America Online. Here, a user can fill out an online form that builds a short biography about himself, which includes his name, sex, location and hobbies.

“Children really shouldn’t establish profiles because that’s where pedophiles fish for information,” says Treglia. “They search randomly for words in a profile like ‘cheerleader’ or ‘school’ and then profiles pop up with screen names. Strangers put these names on their buddy lists and then impersonate students or teens.”

“They [pedophiles] are shrewd, they are smart and they should not be underestimated,” warns Jeff Mackston, chief of operations for the Oceanside-based, Child Abuse Unit – SPCC, a nonprofit law enforcement agency that works to protect minors from being exploited. “They know how to work these kids. After a couple of weeks or months, they’re not strangers anymore,” cautions Mackston.

Chat Rooms
Here, members can share their views on such subjects as travel, entertainment, romance and more. Entering is like walking into a room full of strangers. People may not always be who they say they are.

“Chat rooms offer a dysfunctional child a new kind of power,” says Paul Hamilton, the lead investigator for the Child Abuse Unit – SPCC. “People can’t be judged here. They are all equal.” Unfortunately, a pedophile can oftentimes sense those who don’t quite fit in. Hamilton explains, “They look for children who are looking for something – those who have something missing. If a child is in a chat room, but he is not communicating with anyone, a pedophile will sense that loneliness.”

Hamilton has spent years investigating Internet crimes, at one point managing 125 cases of sexual exploitation simultaneously. His very first online suspect turned out to be the Vice President of a major HMO in New York. “Here was this big, wealthy guy with a family who was setting up a rendezvous with a 13-year-old girl – who happened to be me!”

Hamilton wants parents to know that a pedophile will “morph” his personality to fill a child’s void. If a child complains online that his parents keep a tight rein on him or won’t buy him the right clothes, a pedophile will lure him by saying something like, “If I were your daddy, I’d take you anywhere you wanted to go. I’d buy you nice clothes.”

He adds, “Whatever the kid is lacking – if they don’t have the closeness they crave with a parent – a pedophile will be more than willing to step in.”

Instant Messenger (IM)
Kids love this feature because rather than sending a message via e-mail, they can chat in real time. A user will be notified when their “buddy” is online and then they can carry on a one-on-one conversation. As more “buddies” log on, the conversations grow.

Instant messaging can be safe if your child is taught to communicate only with screen names from his buddy list.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has a new awareness campaign entitled, HDOP (Help Delete Online Predators). The Center cautions parents to set strict guidelines with their children regarding instant messaging, telling them they should only IM school and family friends that they know by face and who are known to their parents. Take a look at your child’s IM buddy list, the Center advises. Make sure you can put a face to every screen name on the list.

Empowering Kids to Make Safe Choices
The Internet is here to stay, and kids will find a way to log on whether we as parents like it or not. Rather than forbid its use, experts say parents need to stay vigilant while guiding their children to make good choices.

“You can pull the plug on your child, but there are Internet cafes and friends’ houses. We have to work together on this issue,” says Alane Fagin, executive director of Child Abuse Prevention Services (CAPS). The organization has begun offering “SurfSafe!” Internet education to Long Island schools.

Carolyn Walpole, director of curriculum for i-SAFE America, explains that in designing Internet safety education for children at the elementary level, “our aim is to get kids to understand the abstract about the Internet, that the Internet community is like the physical community they live in.” Students are taught to follow the same safety rules about not talking to strangers or sharing personal information. “We try to alert them to age-appropriate problems without trying to scare them.”

The Best Defense
Experts say the computer should not be used as a babysitter. Yet, parents agree, it’s difficult to watch over your child minute-to-minute. Therefore, communication within the family is vital. Talk with your child and come up with some sensible rules they must follow while online. Here are some examples to consider from the Web site

  • I will not give out personal information such as my address, telephone number, parents’ work address/telephone number, or the name and location of my school without my parents’ permission.
  • I will never send a person my picture or anything else without first checking with my parents.
  • I will never agree to get together with someone I “meet” online without first checking with my parents.
  • I will not respond to any messages that are mean or in any way make me feel uncomfortable. It is not my fault if I get a message like that. If I do, I will tell my parents right away so that they can contact the service provider.

“The best defense is to have a comfortable, open line of communication with your kids,” says Hamilton. “There is no substitution for a good relationship.”

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Frank Ferreyra

     On Tuesday, May 18, the Child Abuse Unit - SPCC based in Oceanside, N.Y. and the Nassau County District Attorney’s office arrested its first on-line child predator with the use of a voice synthesizer as he showed up for a face-to-face meeting with undercover officer Paul Hamilton from the CAU - SPCC who was posing as a 13 year old female. The suspect initially set up the meeting for Wednesday, May 12, but did not show. In the computer transcripts the suspect repeatedly asked the undercover for a phone call if he was late to the meeting. The suspect was also a no show for the second scheduled meeting, but after receiving his requested phone call from the CAU - SPCC undercover shortly after the scheduled meeting time, he arrived forty minutes later and was arrested.
     Jeffrey Mackston, Chief of the Child Abuse Unit – SPCC, explains that forty to fifty percent of ICAC cases never come to fruition because the suspects wish to confirm who they’re talking to with a phone conversation prior to traveling. Before now, his unit and many other law enforcement entities could not comply with that request because they didn’t have any female officers that sounded that young and bringing outside female law enforcement officers from other departments to pose as a child was difficult because they were unfamiliar with the content of the conversations that had taken place over long periods of time. Mackston further explains that the undercover working a case is really the only one that should be allowed to talk to the suspect. These pedophiles are not to be underestimated. In most cases they are fairly intelligent and will ask the undercover questions concerning their past conversations as a test to make sure the person on the other end of the phone is who they say they are.
     Consumed in frustration, in October of 2003 Jeffrey Mackston started a research project to determine if today’s technology could support the synthesizing of a female child’s voice from an adult male. Many products from different companies were tested but one company stood out far ahead of the rest. The only problem was that with high quality comes high prices and the Child Abuse Unit did not have the recourses to retain the synthesizer past the free demo period. After all was said and done the synthesizer and other supporting equipment was upwards of six thousand dollars. Mackston says that when Frank Ferreyra of the NYS Fraternal Order of Police heard what we were doing he stepped up to the plate and financed all of the equipment. Mackston further explained that Mr. Ferreyra is a man of vision who’s not afraid to use technology as a weapon against those who would prey on our children. It is because of his generosity and vision, the hard work and initiative of the Child Abuse Unit – SPCC and the pro active approach towards this type of crime from the Nassau County District Attorney’s office that is responsible for one more predator being removed from the midst of children.
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Surfing With Sharks: L.I. Crime Unit Protects Kids From Online Predators
By Maureen Ledden Rossi

Just two weeks ago, the nation watched in horror from behind the lens of a video surveillance camera as 11-year-old Carlie Brucia was kidnapped. Her parents' greatest fears were realized when Carlie went from kidnap victim to murder victim.

In the wake of such a heart-wrenching high-profile case, parents are holding a little tighter to their precious offspring and adopting greater vigilance toward safety. This often means encouraging kids to stay closer to the nest. After all, kids are safer in their own home, right?

Not necessarily. Here on Long Island, a unique crime unit focuses solely on Internet predators, who sneak into our homes electronically.

"There are 600,000 registered sex offenders in the United States and 75 percent of them are using the Internet," says Jeff Mackston, head of the Child Abuse Unit (CAU) of the Long Island Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (LISPCC). "Every hour, thousands of pedophiles will log onto the Internet and slip into our homes, schools and libraries, invisible and anonymous."

As state-chartered nonprofit law enforcement agencies, SPCCs have been around for almost a century. Units can be found all over the country, and work in coordination with both local and national law enforcement agencies. However, Nassau County's division—which also has jurisdiction in Suffolk and Queens—is the only one presently addressing pedophile predators on the Internet.

"The scope of the problem is huge," says Mackston, an Island Park resident. "These sickos hunt your kids." The Nassau CAU is currently tracking more than 100 suspected pedophiles who "have already broken the law and have intent to travel," according to Mackston. As we go to press, the organization is closing in on a schoolteacher from out of state.

With millions of children using the Web daily, pedophiles have a virtually unlimited supply of victims at their fingertips. According to a survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice, one in five children between the ages of 10 and 17 receive unwanted sexual solicitations online. According to a major Justice Department study on the subject done in 1999, 58,000 nonfamily abductions occurred. Rarely is the abductor a total stranger. "Most nonfamily abductions occur with someone the child has some form of a relationship with," according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

This is where the Internet facilitates pedophiles, giving them a forum in which to gain the trust of children. They can take advantage of teens who may be at odds with their parents. It's a time-consuming process which makes apprehending them time-consuming as well.

"These cases take weeks or months to come to fruition, which shows the patience of the sexual predators," says Sgt. John Cowie, who heads up the Suffolk County Police Department Computer Crimes Unit. "They are willing to wait to gain the trust and confidence of the victims and break down those barriers."

Mackston and Cowie's investigators pose as children online to identify sexual predators, and both say it's scary to watch the pedophiles at work. "We'll set up a profile of a young girl and it's like sharks in a feeding frenzy," Cowie says. In one of the more bizarre cases, Cowie says, "We were undercover chatting online with a fellow that wanted to swap his 4-year-old daughter for sex. It turns out he was having sex with his 4-year-old, making porn with her and swapping her for sex." That Long Island father is currently serving 18 years in prison, while one of his prospective swap-mates, a Westchester man, faces a federal trial.

Mackston adds: "We'll go into a chat room and 10, 15, 20 different people will be hitting us at the same time. We have to close out the chat room. It's horrible. We have to prioritize which are the most dangerous predators."

According to a study by the National Institute of Mental Health, the average molester of girls will victimize 50 girls before being caught and convicted, and the average molester of boys will have victimized 150 boys before being caught and convicted.

"These pedophiles come from all walks of life," Mackston notes. "We've apprehended a vice president of an HMO, schoolteachers, professors and law enforcement agents."

The Nassau County SPCC chapter operates under social service law and the family court acts, answering to the district attorney's office. Although separate from the Nassau and Suffolk County police departments, SPCC's powers are derived from the same agency: the Division of Criminal Justice Services. As a nonprofit, Mackston's organization depends on funding derived from grants and donations. They are starting to go out into school districts around the Island to educate parents about the risks their children face online. As the problem becomes more prevalent, some respected organizations are getting the word out about Internet danger, including The American Academy of Pediatrics and The United States Attorney General's Office. New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer recently sent a letter to school districts on Long Island addressing online dangers.

"We are making an effort to get parents involved in protecting their children, making sure they take an active role in protecting children from pornographic materials and online predators," says Brad Maione, spokesperson for Spitzer. "Monitor who your children talk to online, keep track of the amount of time they spend online and talk to your children about the problem that can arise from communicating online."

Mackston agrees, and also recommends monitoring and filtering software. SPCC analyzes such products every year and makes recommendations on its website. "The educated child will make it," Mackston says. "Look at the poor Brucia child. If she had screamed, he might have ran."

For more information, contact the following agencies:
The New York State Attorney General's Office (

The SPCC Internet Crimes Against Children Unit (

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (

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Cyber Crime Fighters

Child abuse unit cracking down on Internet crime

by Cris Italia November 13, 2003
This is the first part of an ongoing series on the Long Island Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and its Internet Child Abuse Unit. In the coming weeks the Herald will report on sexual predators on the Internet and how they hunt for children, as well as how kids bypass Internet restrictions and what parents can do to prevent this form of crime.

Chief Jeff Mackston of the
SPCC Child Abuse Unit and
Investigator Paul Hamilton
have fought Internet predators
since 1998.

     When Jeff Mackston tucked his 9-year-old daughter into bed one evening, he noticed her stiffness. She was quiet, and yet she seemed to be rattled. When asked what was bothering her, she said it was the man on the computer. Even at 9, she knew how to sign on to the Internet, but she couldn't control others from talking to her in a sexually suggestive way.
     "I was livid," Mackston said. "I wanted to do something about it. You try to protect your kids as much as you can, but now you have these people trying to get at them right in your home through a computer."
     Mackston's daughter was working on a geography project for school when she began "speaking" to someone from California. "It scared her," Mackston said. "But kids like her are subjected to this every day, and after it happens they are forever changed."
     Feeling powerless, Mackston turned to a friend, an investigator with a child-abuse unit. Though he had no law-enforcement experience, in 1996 he teamed up with the Long Island Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (LISPCC) to form a child-abuse unit that would focus on computer crimes.
     In April 1998 the Society's Child Abuse Unit (CAU) launched an aggressive campaign to educate and train its officers in how to fight the growing problem of pedophiles who hunt for children in Internet chat rooms and the distribution of child pornography on the Internet.
     "This is desperately lacking in law enforcement," said Mackston, 47, of Island Park, who is now not only a certified New York State peace officer but the Child Abuse Unit's chief. "If there were a unit like this in every city in the country, we would still only make a dent in the amount of pedophile-committed crimes over the Internet."
     The CAU is empowered by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Service to prosecute or assist in the prosecution of any acts resulting in the direct or potential mental, emotional or physical harm of a child. "We work with the district attorney's office on local cases, and with U.S. Customs and the FBI on state, national and even international cases," Mackston said. "Basically those that read this should know that if you are out there doing wrong, we will be on the other end."

How the unit works
     As an example, an officer will construct a personal profile of a 13-year-old girl that depicts the character of a typical child going through the trials and tribulations of adolescence - difficulty with parents who never understand her, searching for friends, seeking acceptance, etc. The investigator will then enter a chat room where pedophiles are known to hunt and simply wait. No conversation needs to be initiated by the officer, and he or she doesn't even need to communicate in the open chat room.
     An experienced pedophile looking for children usually won't engage in open conversation in the chat room, either, but will, for example, check the America Online profile of all who are in the room until he finds a participant who interests him. There are times when a CAU officer is hit with 12 to 15 "instant messages" at the same time. The officer may engage in a conversation and eventually set up a meeting. The unit then informs the district attorney, obtains a warrant and works with another law enforcement entity to make the arrest.
     It's early on a Thursday morning, and Mackston has just been given transcripts of several conversations with alleged pedophiles from the night before. Posing as young teenagers, officers have been approached by predators from as near as Oceanside and as distant as England.
     "It can be anyone," Mackston says. "Your next-door neighbor, your boss, your employee - we've seen people from all walks of life."
     Sifting through the transcripts, Mackston sees that some alleged pedophiles have sent sexually explicit photos of themselves. Sometimes it's just a portrait, but this morning Mackston shakes his head in disgust while looking at a man in one photo who is holding his erect penis. "This is what we get, this is every night," he said.
     Seventy-seven percent of the targets of online predators are 14 or older, while 22 percent range from ages 10 to 13. The U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that of all convicted rapists and those convicted of sexual assault in 1999, two out of three victims were under age 17. Fifty-eight percent of those victims were younger than 12. "The way I see it, if we just take one of these people out of society, you will be saving a lot of kids from being victimized," Mackston said.

Unit needs funds
     With such a large number of suspects and a limited staff and resources, Mackston understands that there is only so much his unit can do. "It makes me sick," he said of the pedophiles he and his colleagues can't get to. "I mean, it just eats at me, because we know that person might be doing something and most likely is."
     In the past, officers have met suspects after phone conversations. "We worked with the district attorney for a while, using a female to impersonate a young teenager," Mackston explained. "But to update them on every detail of the conversation was difficult, and eventually the suspect would know something was wrong."
     Voice synthesizers will be used in the future so officers themselves will be able to hold conversations. "Hopefully that will allow us to set up meetings and make more arrests," Mackston said. "But we need more. We are short staffed and seriously in need of funds to continue this operation."
     The CAU currently operates on a budge of $300,000 a year. Most of the money is raised through fund-raisers throughout the year, but the unit usually falls short of its needs, and the rest comes out of the pockets of Mackston and a few others in the unit. "We could be doing so much more if we had a bigger staff and more money for equipment," Mackston said.
     The unit gathers in a small office in Oceanside, but Mackston has made it possible for his officers to work from home in the early hours of the morning, when most Internet pedophiles are signed on. Although many pedophiles hunt on the Internet at all hours of the day, 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. are their favorite hours of operation.
     There is no statue of limitations on sexual predators, which gives victims a chance to report their attackers at any time. So while predators are out there, waiting for their next opportunity, the CAU is hard at work, trying to protect the community's children. "We come in contact with over 100 pedophiles a month," Mackston said. "We're out there making arrests all the time."
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Hunting online predators

The Herald goes undercover with the Child Abuse Unit

by Cris Italia November 20, 2003
This is the second part of an ongoing series on Internet pedophiles and the work of the Child Abuse Unit of the Long Island Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

Child Abuse Unit investigator
Paul Hamilton and Chief Jeff
Mackston hunt for pedaphiles

     It's 2 a.m. on a Sunday, and a 55-year-old from Tennessee believes he has been conversing with a 13-year-old from Long Island through Instant Messaging, an America Online feature that allows you to speak electronically with anyone in the world.
     The man is an administrator at a high school who coaches both a girls' and boys' basketball team. More than two hours after the conversation began, at 11:47 p.m., the administrator clearly has no reservations about talking to someone so young. He offers the girl several scenarios in which they can meet, and raises the possibility of flying her down to Tennessee.
     What he doesn't know is that sitting at the other end of this conversation is Paul Hamilton, a 39-year-old investigator with the Child Abuse Unit of the Long Island Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. "This guy will be one of our primary targets," Hamilton says confidently.
     Only half an hour into their chat, Hamilton had predicted that the man would profess his love for the fictitious 13-year-old. Sure enough, the administrator eventually types, "I think I would have a crush on you." Hamilton isn't surprised. "This is the kind of guy that comes off nice, but once he steps over that line, he will be very dangerous," he says.
     Aside from his 50-plus hours a week working at the CAU offices in Oceanside, Hamilton puts in a full night's work on his computer at home on weekends. With a computer gadget called a thumb drive, he is able to save all information and transcripts. The thumb drive serves as a portable hard drive that enables investigators to work from home without compromising the evidence.
     Hamilton doesn't do this for the money, but for the goal. CAU has suffered financially, operating mostly on fumes, but investigators like Hamilton believe what they are doing makes a difference. "If we can just save one child or catch one pedophile, we will be making a difference," he said, sitting in his small studio apartment in Long Beach.
     With extensive experience with computers, Hamilton could be sitting pretty working just about anywhere else. Originally from Valdosta, Ga., he says he was making a decent living in Knoxville, Tenn., where he worked for an Internet content provider. His cost of living would be a lot lower anywhere else. "I'm not complaining, because I believe in this, and I believe in my chief," he said.
     Chief Jeff Mackston recruited Hamilton after watching a segment on pedophiles on ABC's "20/20." Hamilton and some of his associates would disguise themselves as children on the Internet and harass pedophiles by posting their photos. Mackston called the producers of "20/20" and obtained Hamilton's phone number. At the time, in 1997, Mackston's unit had focused mostly on local pedophiles.
     "The unit had worked on some Internet pedophile cases, but they flew us to New York so we could show them a presentation," Hamilton recalled. He demonstrated while undercover how a child was approached on the Internet. Through a chat room, a pedophile would contact the child first. As Hamilton showed Mackson's unit how he worked, a pedophile contacted him.
     "The unit saw how well it worked and they were just jazzed about it," Hamilton said. "We started a case on that pedophile and within a week he was arrested." The suspect turned out to be a wealthy vice president of an HMO in New York City with a wife and a family. "This was a white-collar guy, and it just makes you think, With everything he has, why does he do this?" Hamilton questioned.
     Mackston wanted Hamilton as part of his team. It was Hamilton who helped change the focus of the unit. Soon they were investigating a broader spectrum of cases. In an abrupt move, Hamilton packed his bags for New York, and he hasn't regretted it. "It was a big adjustment," he says looking around at his meager living conditions. "But we do damn good work. I just keep saying our time will come."
     Still in heavy conversation with the school administrator in Tennessee, Hamilton has had to balance him with several other pedophiles who were hunting the same prey. His 13-year-old's disguise is a hot commodity. He makes her seem innocent enough for the pedophiles to think they can convince her to do whatever they want.
     By now the administrator has offered a plane ticket to Tennessee and a stay at a hotel. "I would love to be together alone somewhere," he says. "I've always wondered about being with someone your age." In addition to his offer of gifts and fantasy, the administrator has sent a photo of himself, a portrait.
     Other predators have sent more sexually explicit photos. Hamilton explains that one pedophile went as far as sending a photo of himself with a young teenage girl who is performing oral sex. "I've seen some disturbing images," Hamilton says. He describes one photo in which an older man was ejaculating on a 2-year-old toddler. And there was one pedophile who sent him a video of a young girl being raped. "I can just remember the anguish on her face -- you could tell this was done by force. Not only did this guy rape her, but he glorified it," he said.
     Through another instant message, a 44-year-old from Long Island wants to know where Hamilton's 13-year-old girl hangs out. Hamilton responds with some usual locations: area malls, arcades, etc. Through all this, the conversation with the administrator continues. He admits to having crushes on some of his players. He tells Hamilton he is married, but not happily. He says that, physically, his marriage is failing. He asks if she ever wears a two-peace bathing suit at the beach, Hamilton replies yes. "Oh, wow -- what a nice image," he says.
     For a suspected pedophile, the administrator has been extremely careful. He has made sure there is interest, but Hamilton does not suggest anything unless he mentions it first. "We present no entrapment," Hamilton said. "We let them suggest everything first."
     Hamilton never proposes talking on the phone or setting up a meeting, nor does he talk sexually. "Once the pedophile does it, then we can re-enforce what they say," he said. "None of our cases have ever gone to court, because we're so careful. They always plead out."
     While the administrator is careful with his language, others don't hold back. One man from Canada tries to lure Hamilton into cyber sex. He says, "I want to put my hand down your panties while kissing you."
     "There are some pedophiles who start to pull back because they feel guilty," Hamilton said. "Others just have no moral dilemmas at all."
     In a month he averages about 125 active cases. "Eventually doing this every day wears on you," the investigator said. "You lose faith in people sometimes, but we keep doing this for the good people. We'll never know the kids we save, and if I don't get to a pedophile, he'll get to someone else."
     Hamilton regrettably admits that he and his colleagues in law enforcement are vastly outnumbered. There are far more pedophiles than undercover officers on the Internet. "[With] 8.5 million people in New York alone, it's safe to say there are thousands [of pedophiles] just here," he said. Hamilton alone has been involved in hundreds of investigations. "You do not know the feeling of elation we get when we bust someone," he said.
     Although Hamilton can lose his focus, he has plenty of inspiration. "I had missed my niece's birthday recently and I called her and told her it was work that prevented me from calling," he said, explaining that his niece is 10. "I said I was just trying to help kids, make it a safer world for her. She said it was OK, and she knows it's 'one bad guy at a time.' That meant so much to me." Hamilton also takes part in the Big Brother program.
     It's past 3 a.m., and Hamilton has begun winding down his handful of electronic conversations. At some point, pedophiles are going to question why a 13-year-old is awake at such an hour. He leaves his predators wanting more, and makes sure they will talk in the very near future.
     "We made a lot of progress tonight," Hamilton said. "Opened up a couple of cases, and with the help of the Nassau County District AttorneyÕs Office and the United States Customs we are going to make some definite arrests." Internet pedophiles can be charged with a number of offenses based solely on conversations on the Internet: attempting to lure a child and transmitting or distribution of child pornography, to name just a few.
     "I know me -- I try to save the world every time I do this," Hamilton said. "Parents don't think about this. Sometimes this is not on their minds. We do this so they don't have to."
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Feeling powerless against pedophiles

by Cris Italia November 20, 2003

     I couldn't help but feel powerless while watching investigator Paul Hamilton of the Child Abuse Unit, a division of the Long Island Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

     He was engaged in an electronic conversation with a pedophile, using the disguise of a 13-year-old girl. With each instant message, I couldn't help, but feel rage. How can people do this to innocent children?
     Last week the Herald printed the first installment of what will be an ongoing series on pedophiles. In the article, Chief Jeff Mackston mentioned that pedophiles can be from "all walks of life." Although he has seen it himself, I had my reservations -- and an image of what a pedophile was and looked like. After spending time with Hamilton, my perception had changed radically.
     Pedophiles can be anyone, and I got a first-hand look of my own. From a high school administrator to a maintenance man to a vice president of a company, pedophiles roam free on the Internet. And while they sent sexually explicit photos and used sexually explicit language, I sat there thinking, This so-and-so does not belong in society.      Just think about a man who is in charge of children in his professional life going home and pursuing his fantasies by way of children he lures from chat rooms. With each invitation for sex, with each attempt to lure Hamilton's imagined 13-year-old, all I wanted to do was go get this guy.
     What made it worse were the photos sent by these sexual predators. They looked like normal people. Someone you would see on the street and never guess that they would harm a child. Adding faces to the conversations made them all the more sickening.
     I know now that there are tens of thousands of pedophiles surfing the net for fresh prey. They can be anywhere: Your teachers, your neighbors or, as Mackston explained, sometimes even members of your own family.
     The images are disturbing. This was just one night for me -- Hamilton sees it every day -- but it was enough to make a lasting impression. Growing up, never thought about this. Never would I have imagined that there were sexual predators looking to take the innocence away from children.
     I thought about my young cousins, some of whom are nearing ages 12 and 13. If something were to ever happen to them, I don't know what I would do. I imagine it's common for parents to jump to conclusions when a child is harmed. How can you tell them not to react on impulses?
     Pedophiles don't discriminate. There are enough of them who are looking for any child regardless of his or her age, gender or race. The most sobering statistics are the sheer numbers. There are so many out there.
     Hamilton referred to an episode of "Law & Order, Special Victims Unit," in which the characters on the show were interrogating a pedophile and he said, "There are too many of us. You will never stop us from doing what we do."
     "They believe in that," Hamilton said. "And because they believe that, they will always feel that they will not get caught."
     It's hoped that, through the work of Hamilton and others, Internet crimes against children will be reduced dramatically.
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Losing his childhood

by Cris Italia November 20, 2003

     He was only 12 when it happened. In those days, the word pedophile didn't even seem to exist. For a long time he thought that what happened to him was his fault. In those days there didn't seem to be anything wrong with someone older hanging around. Up until age 12, Jason enjoyed his youth, comparing his days and friendships to the movie Stand By Me.

     We used to do all kinds of things as kids, Jason reminisced. We'd go fishing by the creek or play kickball.
     Now, 20 years later, Jason says that a 19-year-old hanging around a pack of kids wouldn't be acceptable. We didn't think anything of it, he said of his attacker. He was just someone older that hung out with us, helped us build a tree house.      At age 12 he never thought his world would be turned upside down. Jason was taken advantage of, raped by someone he thought was his friend. As he explains it, society never taught kids about this. You knew not to talk to strangers, you knew what to do if you saw a crime committed, but this was different, said Jason, who chose to maintain his anonymity. Even all these years later, there are some people he will just never tell.
     Jason told no one about what happened. He felt a tremendous amount of guilt. I thought I had done something wrong, he said. I thought that I was bad and this was punishment for something I did. And the whole time, I just didn't understand why he did it. Besides feeling guilty, I didn't know how else to feel.
     After he was sexually abused, he never saw his attacker again. From then on Jason suffered socially. He kept a close-knit group of friends, but was wary of anyone new. I lost my childhood, he said. A 12-year-old should never have to think about things like that. He should be thinking about being a kid, having fun, school, friends. I didn't have that option.
     Even with a healthy family environment, Jason says he was afraid of telling his parents. He kept all of what happened inside, and eventually he was consumed, making it difficult to open up to anyone. As I grew, I wasn't social at all, he said, and sometimes I was forced into situations when I needed to be. When that happened I didn't do well.
     He never knew there was help. As a teenager and into his 20s, Jason was a loner, like Clint Eastwood, as he would explain. He missed the innocence of his childhood and says what he put himself through was unjust.
     I'll never know what I would have been, he said. I can only say that what happened to me caused all the things I went through growing up, all the guilt I carried with me, all the insecurities. I couldn't trust people.
     Now Jason directs his energy and his experience in a different way. He helps kids. As a member of several child-assistance organizations, he finds strength and resolve in making a difference. I've been liberated of the guilt, he said. I'm an empowered individual, and I always think positively.
     Jason says that when he meets others who have experienced what he has, the feelings are always the same. It's always the same thing, and you can put a kid through psycho therapy, but they are going to feel what they feel no matter what, he said. It's just what every kid is going to feel if this happens to them, but it's not their fault.
     Jason prospered because of a supportive family and good friends. It was just a matter of people telling me that I was good, that I was a good person, he said. The whole time I just thought if bad things happened to me I deserved it, but that wasn't true.
     It's so important for parents to have open communication.
     Even though Jason has made tremendous strides, he says he still suffers in relationships. There are long periods of shyness, and he struggles to keep a relationship together. I look at what happened and I know at least I'm wiser for it, he said. With any traumatic incident you have to learn to accept it, and I have.
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Local Unit Works To Stop Pedophiles

Most parents have heard of pedophiles watching playgrounds and schools, looking for children to prey on. What many parents don't know is that these same things happen on the internet, circumventing the preventative skills parents have been giving their children for decades, if not longer.

The Child Abuse Unit, a division of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, has been working since 1998, when the Internet really took hold in society at large, to catch pedophiles as they attempt to get close to unknowing children. The unit has also been teaching parents how to keep their children safe. Combining technical prowess with state-granted status as peace officers, which includes to ability to arrest offenders, the unit has a wide array of tools at their fingertips.

Jack Mackston, chief of operations of the Child Abuse Unit, said the Internet offers new opportunities to pedophiles because of the anonymity associated with much of its use. That anonymity, combined with new technology's ability to connect people, can nearly negate the major lesson taught to children to protect them - don't talk to strangers.

"The thing that makes this much more dangerous is children know what makes a stranger a stranger on the street," Mackston said. "But on the Internet, [strangers and children] will talk for months, and really aren't strangers anymore."

Although there are plenty of ways, such as Internet Relay Chat [IRC] networks, for people to trade large swaths of child pornography, as well as tips and assistance to get to children, it is Internet chat rooms that offer both anonymity and opportunity for predators to choose and pursue the children they want. According to Child Abuse Unit lead investigator Paul Hamilton, it really isn't that hard to gain the trust of a child on the Internet and lure them away from safety.

Hamilton said that as children as young as middle school age begin to use and comprehend computers more, they go from the simple clicking urges of "this looks interesting" to actually engaging information and people on the internet, most often in chat rooms.

Contrary to popular thought, children don't need to be computer experts and can access IRC's and obscene websites because the community-roundtable chat rooms of America Online and MSN, two of the biggest Web providers in the country, offer easily found interaction. "Pedophiles will just watch the chat rooms," Hamilton said, "and begin to distinguish between kids and their potential problems." Observing the chat room conversation, and reading the online profiles that many children think they must have to define their Internet personalities, pedophiles can gather all the information they need to gain the trust and access to their prey.

Hamilton said that, when it comes to profiles, there doesn't need to be anything remotely related to sex for a pedophile to find something desirable in a child. What they look for, he said, are keywords in the that child's personal description. Interests such as drama, which suggest the child is not shy and comfortable in front of people, gymnastics, which say the child is in physically fit and possibly "limber," and cheerleading, which traditionally suggests physical attractiveness, set off sexual concepts - virtually any interest "can be made sexual" by these predators, according to Hamilton. When Hamilton spends time online, he does two things: He creates a completely non-suggestive profile of a nonexistent child and then enters chat rooms, often with several screen names logged in at once, and just waits for people to begin sending him instant messages. Often, he said, within 15 or 20 minutes, he'll get messages. The people preying on children may spend days, weeks or even months having conversations to learn about the children, from likes and dislikes to problems with their parents and friends to emotional issues. "It's not sincere," Hamilton said, "but they will fill whatever need the child has."

Mackston said the easiest way to make it more difficult for children to be preyed upon is not to have a profile. "Who needs them, your friends know who you are. If you take away profiles, you take away a major tool for pedophiles," Mackston said.

Parents cannot only monitor the websites their children are using, but also every keystroke entered into a computer by using simple tracking software installed on the computer's hard drive. Mackston said although Internet service providers offer parental controls, children can easily find ways around them, such as signing onto America Online and then using another web browser, such as Internet Explorer or Netscape, which is not monitored by the parental controls. Such tracking software is available in stores, as well as at the Child Abuse Unit's Web site, Additional information on the unit, how to protect children from Internet predators and ways to help support the Child Abuse Unit is also available at the website.

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Safe Surfing
W. Hempstead woman works to secure the Internet for kids

by Eugene Gilligan November 18, 2004

     Do you know where your children are?
     If they're like most kids, it's very likely they are surfing the Internet, chatting with friends in a chat room in "email speak." But a word of caution from West Hempstead resident Valentina Janek: While the Web is a great, revolutionary, learning tool, people with dark motives, such as sexual predators, are also prowling cyberspace.

     Janek, the executive director of advocacy for the Child Abuse Unit of the Long Island chapter of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, said parents must be aware of the Internet's dangers. Sexual predators can very easily "disguise" themselves as children in a chat room, win a child's trust, and eventually set up a meeting. Parents must monitor what Web sites and chat rooms their kids are frequenting.
     "It's essential that kids keep safe on the computer," Janek said. "Parents are in denial, and say 'Not my child."
     The CAU-SPCC is empowered by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice to concentrate its efforts solely to enforce the laws that pertain to minors. The group's investigators and New York State Peace Officers are trained and state-approved in the recognition, reporting, and documentation of child abuse cases.
     Janek is interested in the group in some measure because of her work in high tech, as an events planner and manager at a computer magazine publisher. When she was laid off from her job, she threw herself into volunteer work, and says her work with the CAU-SPCC is one way to stay connected with the high tech world.
     While the group has received support from area businesses, religious organizations, and students, school districts have been unresponsive, she said.
     "I'm baffled by that," Janek said. "These schools should be getting behind these kids. Why haven't these schools stepped up to the plate."
     The Crime Abuse Unit of the SPCC has started a fund raising campaign by soliciting used ink and toner cartridges. The used cartridges are sold for recycling, with a portion of the funds going to the Child Abuse Unit.
     The CAU-SPCC's booklet "Internet Safety Guide," details the different types of child exploitation on the Internet. The book also offers safety tips, and suggests steps to take if a parent believes their child is communicating with a sexual predator online.      The organization is also getting kids involved in the fight, inviting them to design a mascot at their Web site.
     Another way for kids to stay safe, Janek said, is to spend significant time away from the computer.
     "They should get out more, do volunteer work, raise money for a sick child," she said.
     Her student volunteers, Stacee White of Baldwin, Dana Jones and Gina LoCurcio of West Hempstead, and Benjamin Kornick of Roslyn, have made a great contribution to her group, she said. They have appeared on radio station KJOY 98.3 and the Telecare cable TV channel to raise awareness of the CAU-SPCC. The volunteers also help with various fund-raising initiatives, and also visit local business to ask for used printer cartridges.
     The group's investigative unit uses some sophisticated methods to track down pedophiles. Last May, the unit and the Nassau County District Attorney's office arrested a man who made contact with a 13-year-old girl. The man, after meeting the girl on the Internet, attempted to set up a meeting by phone. But the 13-year-old girl he thought he was talking to was really Paul Hamilton, chief of investigations for the CAU-SPCC. Hamilton used sophisticated voice-filtering equipment to disguise his voice.
     But while there have been successes, Hamilton said the largely unregulated Internet is an ideal hunting ground for the pedophile.
     "If you took every police officer from every jurisdiction in the country, and put them all together, we'd still be outnumbered by those who want to exploit children," Hamilton said.
     One local business that is an enthusiastic supporter of the group is Cartridge World of Franklin Square, which sells refilled inkjet and laser cartridges.
     "Basically, we're trying to help out," said the store's president, Frank J. Francia. "We wanted to do something, so we set up a recycling bin in the store for them." Francia, and his partner in the store, James Carroll, are both retired New York City detectives, and display posters and literature about the organization around their store. They have talked to other businesses in their area to try to convince them to set up recycling bins.
     Some people withdraw from their community after they lose their jobs, but Valentina Janek has done the opposite, working with charities and becoming more involved in her community.
     In addition to her work with CAU-SPCC, she is an organizer for the Long Island Volunteer Hall of Fame, and has also, along with a longtime friend, befriended and raised funds for Nicole Caputo, a seven-year old whose near drowning three years ago left her severely brain damaged. She is writing a book about the experience.
     "Volunteering is good for your soul, good for your career, good for your health," Janek said. She wants to re-enter the world of work, but her charity work has "opened up a new world of people, places, and things. It's given me wings."
     To participate in the cartridge recycling program, call 1-866-STOP ABUSE. To learn more about the CAU-SPCC, visit
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