Covington Company Develops ‘Safe Virtual Neighborhood’ Software To Alert Recipients Of Sexual Offender Social Media Messages
The Watch Systems team
COVINGTON, LA – As social media activity continues to consume American youth’s online activity, one frightening reality has become clear: sexual predators are now targeting children in the online platforms they use most—with limited oversight from law enforcement.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), one in seven youths online have received unwanted sexual solicitations. Furthermore, the number of arrests for online sex crimes tripled between 2000 and 2009, according to a DOJ Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering and Tracking (SMART) report.
Covington-based Watch Systems’ OffenderWatch, the largest sex offender registry system in the United States, announced along with St. Charles Parish Sheriff Greg Champagne, plans to release a new software technology to keep children and families safe – Safe Virtual Neighborhood (SVN) (patent pending).
Announced during the Crimes Against Children Conference in Dallas, SVN will use OffenderWatch’s current database of registered sex offenders to track their online behavior, such as digital texts, emails, social media and online gaming, and notify parents if the offender communicates with their child. OffenderWatch partnered with the office of Sheriff Champagne to build out the project, which is slated for completion by the end of this year.
“Children’s neighborhoods are no longer geographic boundaries surrounding their house,” said Mike Cormaci, president and co-founder of Watch Systems and OffenderWatch. “They now live in a vastly larger virtual neighborhood made possible by the Internet. As predators use technology as another way to prey on our children, we’ve had to expand our thinking to how we can safeguard them in their virtual neighborhood.”
The DOJ National Sex Offender public website lists chilling statistics on the prevalence of online abuse:
• Approximately one in seven (13 percent) youth internet users received unwanted sexual solicitations.
• One in 25 youths received an online sexual solicitation in which the solicitor tried to make offline contact.
• In more than one-quarter (27 percent) of incidents, solicitors asked youths for sexual photographs of themselves.
According to SMART reports based on academic and government research:
• The vast majority of sexual offenses are not reported to law enforcement.
• The number of arrests for online sex crimes tripled between 2000 and 2009.
• Many online sex offenders are motivated by a sexual interest in children under 13, displayed through either child pornography or in-person solicitation.
There are currently more than 800,000 registered sex offenders in the United States. However, most states have a different system for tracking these offenders, making it difficult for agencies to keep records when the offenders cross state lines—not to mention monitoring online abuse.
OffenderWatch’s SVN is a software-as-a-service (SaaS)-based platform that can be integrated into local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, reps said. OffenderWatch plans to release its SVN application later this year to be used on open platforms allowing access to children’s online data.
OffenderWatch is currently working with companies such as Android and X-Box, which allow developers to build software that can track registered sex offenders’ engagement on these platforms. The OffenderWatch team is also working to expand its network of participating social media and tech companies to include platforms like Apple, Nintendo and Snapchat, so they may provide a comprehensive safeguard against predator violations, reps said.
How it works:
• SVN will allow parents to enroll their children’s phones, email and gaming devices into the system to receive a notification provided by law enforcement if a registered offender texts, emails or plays games with their children.
• Once completed, SVN will be available for law enforcement agencies to adopt as part of their procedure regarding sex offender monitoring and community notification.
In conjunction with the SVN announcement, OffenderWatch founder and CEO Lou Luzynski awarded Sheriff Champagne the “OffenderWatch Innovation Award” during the conference to honor his decades of service and commitment to keeping communities safe. The award is bestowed annually to a law enforcement leader who finds innovative ways to go above and beyond their statutory requirements to provide the highest levels of public safety possible.
Champagne has served as Sheriff of St. Charles Parish since 1995. He has served the past year as president of the National Sheriff’s Association and was named “Louisiana Sheriff of the Year” by the Louisiana Crime Victim’s Coalition in 2003.
“Sheriff Champagne is a pioneering leader who adopts new strategies and technologies that improve his community’s safety and way of life,” OffenderWatch’s Cormaci said. “He saw the need to protect children online, and we’ve worked together to find a solution that can save families nationwide from predatory threats.”
OffenderWatch plans to release the SVN software, available for law enforcement agencies nationwide, later this year.
St. Charles Parish Sheriff Greg Champagne