A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Andy Beshear: Kentucky must act after U.S. Supreme Court ruling in North Carolina sex offender case

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Last month’s ruling by the United States Supreme Court in a North Carolina case creates a serious problem for Kentucky law enforcement who seek to protect children from sexual predators.

On June 19, 2017, the nation’s highest court rendered a unanimous opinion in Packingham v. North Carolina. The Court’s ruling found a particular North Carolina statute unconstitutional as an infringement upon the First Amendment.

The statute made it a felony for a registered sex offender to access a commercial social networking website where the sex offender knows the site permits minor children to become members, or to create or maintain personal web pages.

The North Carolina statute is strikingly similar to Kentucky’s statute (KRS 17.546(2). Because of the similarity, the Court’s ruling is already impacting the viability of our statute that is imperative to safeguard Kentucky’s children from sexual predators when they visit social networking websites.

And it has serious potential to setback the great strides we have made in Kentucky to protect our children.

My Cyber Crimes Branch has made scores of arrests and brought 1,147 criminal counts against adults who use the internet, messaging services, email and social media sites to lure children into sexual encounters.

Kentucky State Police has pursued many, as has the Ashland Police Department, Louisville and Lexington police departments, and several other law enforcement agencies across the state.

And my office currently has 14 human trafficking cases and has assisted local law enforcement with resources in an effort to resolve 96 other human trafficking complaints. Most human traffickers use the internet or social media to find their victims.

All public officials and law enforcement agencies can agree that Kentucky’s children need and deserve protection from sexual predators.

While Packingham creates a serious problem for law enforcement who seek to protect children from sexual predators, the Supreme Court does suggest a more specific law might be acceptable.

To further protect Kentucky children and their families, I’ve reached out to lawmakers to work with my office on drafting legislation that I believe can pass constitutional muster. To get things started, I have instructed my staff to begin the process by researching and drafting potential language, and we will soon provide lawmakers a copy of a working draft for review and consideration.

At any given time there are hundreds of thousands of predators scouring the internet attempting to prey on our children. The Supreme Court’s ruling greatly increases that threat.

While my office works with lawmakers on this issue, as parents, we must be vigilant in monitoring and teaching our children about the risk strangers, or even perceived friends, present to them through technology. As the parents of a 7- and 8-year-old, my wife Brittiany and I are constantly keeping an observant eye on our children.

But with technology always changing, parents must be increasingly diligent.

As attorney general I’m focused on helping parents and better protecting our children by doing everything in my authority to make our neighborhoods and streets a little safer every night.

To better arm parents and school officials, my office has partnered with Prevent Child Abuse Kentucky to offer internet safety trainings for families and professionals. This strategy includes an update and publication of the internet safety toolkit, a highly-successful approach to internet safety training.

We must share this message with our communities. We must openly discuss abuse and the ways in which we can prevent it. And we must impress upon everyone that it is their legal and moral duty to report abuse. To report child abuse, contact my office at 877-KYSAFE1.

We cannot stand idly by at the expense of a child.

My office stands ready to help in any way we are able. We are committed at our core to better protect Kentucky’s children.

And together, we will make a difference.

Andy Beshear is Kentucky’s Attorney General

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