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Computer Game Helps Pedophiles Woo Children for Sex

September 16, 1985|SCOTT KRAFT | Times Staff Writer

"That's one of many problems with the (electronic) bulletin boards," said Sgt. James McMahon, who investigates child sex crimes for the San Jose Police Department. "They give pedophiles the feeling that there are many others in the country like them. That knowledge may make them braver and more willing to act on their urges."

'Tougher for Us'

Computer mail can also be used instead of postal mail to arrange the sale or exchange of child pornography, which is a crime. "Computers don't eliminate the need for an actual physical exchange, but if they can make their contacts through a computer, it's going to make it a little tougher for us," said Jack O'Malley, a Customs Service agent in Chicago.

Only a handful of the thousands of computer bulletin boards across the country are X-rated, and only some of those cater to pedophiles. Telephone numbers of sexually explicit boards can, however, be obtained from a variety of sources.

The X-rated boards generally carry warnings that the material is sexually explicit and should only be viewed by users 18 or older, but they make no further attempt to screen out youngsters.

Many police departments lack the expertise to use computers or to recognize that a computer at the home of a suspected child molester may contain names, birth dates, descriptions and ages of victims.

"If a guy knows computers, he's way ahead of us," said Sgt. James J. Martin of the Minneapolis Police Department.

Last December, Minneapolis police caught a suspected child molester but were unable to break the code on his computer. "We didn't have any resources," Martin said. "We went to a Radio Shack store downtown that let us use their computers."

'Hacker' Helped Police

Still unable to break the code, the police brought in a 15-year-old computer "hacker" who had been caught breaking into a bank's computer. The boy was successful, finding diaries, the names of victims and correspondence with other child molesters. The pedophile was convicted and sentenced to three years in prison.

In Indianapolis, Police Lt. Thomas R. Rodgers said law enforcement investigators sometimes unwittingly destroy evidence "because they are unaware that this kind of thing even exists. They may seize a computer, unplug it and erase everything on it without realizing."

The information discovered in an accused child molester's home computer can make a prosecutor's case. After arresting Allen Wiegmink, 69, a few months ago in Chicago, police found computer listings of the names, birth dates, physical descriptions and astrological charts of dozens of children from Michigan, New York and Illinois. He has been charged with 44 counts of child molestation involving seven children.

Allan J. Kapusta, 40, the chief computer analyst for the Chicago Board of Options, was convicted last December of molesting five children. Authorities had found lists of children in Kapusta's home computer; police said he had also used the computer and computer games as toys to lure children to his house.

Technology Not Blamed

Similar lists of children were found at the home of Jan Synak, 44, a computer expert who designed electronic scoreboards for baseball stadiums. He was convicted of molesting four boys, ages 7 to 11, last year but fled the country before the sentence could be imposed.

Most experts agree that technology is not to blame.

"The things these people are doing with computers they did before computers. It's just a lot easier for them now," Lanning said at a recent congressional hearing.

"What is happening is that technology is outstripping us and we have a dearth of organized social protocols to deal with it," said Frank Howell, an assistant professor of sociology at North Carolina State and the creator of an international computer network for sociologists.

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