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The wolf among Utah's children

While a few misguided critics continue to wonder why Utah needs a "porn czar" in the attorney general's office, parents in the state are up to their necks trying to keep their children away from predators.

U.S. Attorney Paul Warner outlined the situation at a news conference this week. In the year since the Children's Internet Crimes Task Force started work, prosecutors have handled 44 Utah cases of adult predators trying to persuade minors into illegal sexual activity. In the past six weeks alone, seven cases were filed involving out-of-state people who met Utah children on-line and then traveled here for encounters. These numbers represent large increases over previous years.

By the sound of it, investigators have about as much trouble finding these predators as a hunter would have bagging game in a wildlife preserve. All it takes is a few minutes on a computer, pretending to be a child in an Internet chat room. The bad guys swim over like fish at feeding time.

The computer has revolutionized modern life. It has opened grand new vistas of knowledge and communication. It also has become the greatest facilitator ever for the exploitation of children. That isn't only the opinion of a U.S. attorney in Utah. Experts from across the nation agree. Pedophiles who used to hang out at playgrounds or amusement parks hoping to avoid detection now can assume virtually any identity they want in the great, anonymous void of cyberspace. Unlike at the playground, they have about 10 million children a day to work among. That's how many children experts believe go on line each day, and nearly all of them are anxious to communicate with other people on line.

These predators are experts at breaking down defenses and gaining a child's confidence.

When burglaries riddle a neighborhood, people form neighborhood watch committees and begin a campaign of vigilance. Why, then, should people scoff at the state's decision to appoint a full-time specialist to help guard the state's most precious resource — its children — from those who want to destroy their lives?

Education is the first line of defense. Parents must be made aware of the problem and of how it can attack their children. They must understand that the family computer should be placed in an open and well-trafficked area — preferably the family room. To allow a child a computer in his or her bedroom is to invite trouble. In addition, they must learn how to search for warning signs.

The state's "porn czar" could lead a public-awareness campaign. She could help communities and groups learn how to spread information.

Rather than wring their hands about Utah having an office no other state has, or worrying without cause that the new czar will find Michelangelo's "David" offensive, all Utahns should unite to do battle with an enemy that seems to be enjoying alarming success.