tampabay.com

Campaign, Web site aim to caution kids about dangers that can lurk on Internet

By CARRIE WEIMAR
Published May 12, 2007


TAMPA - Alicia Kozakiewicz was bored and lonely, so like many teens, she turned to the Internet for companionship.

The man she met online agreed with everything she said and told her she was beautiful and smart. So she decided to meet him.

"I never suspected a thing until I met him face to face, " said Kozakiewicz, who was 13 at the time. "And then it was too late."

Kozakiewicz said she was one of the lucky ones: FBI agents found her four days later, chained to a basement floor.

But most children who are abducted by online predators aren't so fortunate, said the 19-year-old Pittsburgh resident. "Kids need to understand this isn't just a farfetched idea, " she said. "It's not something that you read about. It could happen to anyone."

Now Florida law enforcement agents are launching a program aimed at teaching children about the potential dangers of the Internet.

Attorney General Bill McCollum toured the state Friday with Kozakiewicz to promote the campaign.

"There are thousands of people on the Internet every day looking for kids, " McCollum said during a stop at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers training facility. "I think it's the most important issue facing Florida today in terms of crime."

McCollum also planned stops in Fort Lauderdale and Orlando.

According to the Federal Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, one in seven children between the ages of 10 and 17 has been sexually solicited online. Additionally, Florida ranks fourth in the nation in the volume of child pornography, McCollum said.

The campaign includes the creation of Operation SafeSurf, a Web site with tips about staying safe on the Internet. It can be found at www.safeflorida.net.

McCollum also thanked the Florida Legislature for passing the 2007 Cyber Crimes Against Children Act, which strengthens penalties against people who use the Internet to prey on children.

The act created a second-degree felony with up to a 15-year jail sentence for predators who contact children online and attempt to meet them for the purpose of sexual abuse.

In addition, the Attorney General's Office and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children will produce public service announcements featuring surfer Kelly Slater and Tampa Bay Buccaneer Matt Bryant.

Carrie Weimar can be reached at 813 226-3416 or cweimar@sptimes.com.