IntroductionWith remarkable foresight, William Gibson, in his 1984 novel Neuromancer, predicted that society's increasing reliance on computers and information technology would create an electronic virtual universe that he called Cyberspace. Seventeen years later, cyberspace has become much more than a premise in a science fiction novelit is the equivalent of a gold-rush boomtown. Every second, six new people sign on to the Internet, which, with astonishing speed, has become commonplace in daily life and increasingly vital to learning and communication.
Not surprisingly, youth constitute one of the fastest growing Internet populations. In cyberspace, young people are a mouseclick away from exploring America's greatest museums, libraries, and universities. Encouraged by parents and teachers to take advantage of the Internet's incredible educational and recreational opportunities, nearly 30 million children and youth go online each year to research homework assignments and to learn about the world they live in. Youth also use the Internet to play games and meet friends. According to a survey conducted by Family PC Magazine (Johnson, 2001), youth ages 12–17 are spending a substantial amount of time on the Internet: 66 percent spend 1–5 hours each week surfing the Web, 79 percent spend 1–5 hours e-mailing, and 75 percent spend 1–5 hours doing homework or research online. A United Kingdom survey (NOP Research Group, Internet Surveys, United Kingdom, June 24, 1999) found that teenagers and children hold Internet users in high social esteem. Both youth who used the Internet and those who did not described Internet users as "clever," "friendly," "cool," and "trendy." Given the growing reliance on the Internet for commerce, information, and personal fulfillment, it will probably continue to be an important factor in how children learn and grow. Indeed, some educators believe that children who become familiar with online technology while growing up will lead fuller lives and compete more successfully for careers in the Information Age.
A more sinister aspect of Gibson's premise has alarming implications for parents, educators, and law enforcement. Gibson's concept of cyberspace contains dark corners and back alleys where criminal activity flourishes and electronic actions can entail physical repercussions. In the Internet of today, the electronic actions of the unwary and vulnerable can lead to stalking, theft, and other malicious or criminal actions. In the worst instances, children and teenagers can become victims of molestation by providing personal information and developing relationships with offenders who lure them from their homes for sexual purposes.
This Bulletin discusses the emerging online threat to children and teenagers and the efforts of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention's (OJJDP's) Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force Program. The ICAC Program is designed to enhance the response of State and local law enforcement to child pornography and enticement offenses.