Monday, March 17, 2008

Before There Was "To Catch a Predator" . . . There Was R. Stephanie Good

by Robin Sax

The numbers say it all: each day 2,500 children go missing in the United States, while one out of every five children has been solicited online by sexual predators. Inspired by her own child’s near tragic encounter with a sexual predator, R. Stephanie Good, a highly trained lawyer, house-mom and accomplished author, was compelled to take action.

In 2003, she began a harrowing collaboration with the FBI to track down sexual predators on the Internet– a journey into a perverted underworld that has resulted in the arrest and federal conviction of dozens of sexual offenders.

As Stephanie soon discovered through her undercover work, these predators are more often than not the last ones we would expect, lurking right next door and, frighteningly, having access into our own homes through the Internet. . . .

Sephanie's shocking story is told in EXPOSED: The Harrowing Story of a Mother's Undercover Work with the FBI to Save Children from Internet Sex Predators.

Stephanie worked closely with the FBI agents of Squad C-20, which handles crimes gainst children. Her frightening exposé follows Stephanie as she logs on to chat rooms using the fictitious user profile of a teen-aged girl. She is usually bombarded with instant messages in mere minutes. EXPOSED follows closely as Stephanie participates in Internet chats . . . disguises her voice to conduct wiretapped telephone conversations . . . takes part in dangerous arrest situations where federal agents swoop in to nab a perpetrator who believes he is meeting a minor girl for sex . . . and also as Stephanie comes face-to-face with some of the predators in federal court where she has been called to testify against them.

EXPOSED describes every detail of the process, with excerpts from the actual transcripts of her online chats and telephone conversations with the predators, and the meticulous care that Stephanie employs in her investigations to ensure that everything is done by the book – the results of which have earned Stephanie a 100 percent conviction record.

“Sexual predators have an addiction and will stop at nothing," she says. "And I will stop at nothing to find them and turn them over to the FBI. The fact is that my odds are much better than theirs. While there is no doubt that the Internet has dramatically increased the access of child predators to their young prey, it has also increased the chances that law enforcement officials will catch them.”

Some of the hundreds of predators arrested because of Stephanie’s work, and profiled in EXPOSED, include:

Steven Dovas - a respected teacher, lecturer, well-known filmmaker and commercial animator who had been praised for his work on projects and children’s television segments with Nickelodeon, HBO and Sesame Street. Steven pleaded guilty to the charges, and was sentenced to five years in federal prison and five years supervised release, a $10,000 fine and attendance in a sex offender program.

Jason Corso - a manager of Mutual of Omaha bank. Stephanie participated in the arrest after Corso insisted that Stephanie phone him from the shopping mall where he had scheduled the meeting. After she phoned him with her location, he arrived only to find a swarm of FBI agents awaiting him. Corso pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three years in prison, and three years probation.

John Hamilton - a baker from Kentucky. Hamilton, believing Stephanie to be a 15-year-old girl, purchased a bus ticket for Stephanie to leave her family in New York and meet him in the Midwest, where he would take her to his home and make her “disappear off the face of the Earth.” Stephanie says, “To this day, Hamilton is the most disturbed individual that I have had the unpleasant experience to come across on the Internet." Hamilton was sentenced to three years in prison and five years of probation.

Matt Brand - a thirty-six year-old teacher who arranged to meet 13-year-old "Stephanie" at the Port Authority bus terminal. He did not plead guilty, and Stephanie testified at his trial. He was sentenced to five years in prison.

Dennis Joseph - a forty-year-old musician who played at Carnegie Hall, conducted at Avery Fischer Hall, and performed with celebrities Ashford and Simpson, Stevie Wonder, Bill Cosby, Sting, and the Billy Strayhorn Orchestra. He was also featured on stage in the Broadway production of Fosse and played on the soundtrack for Martin Scorcese’s film, The Aviator. Stephanie testified against him at two trials. He was sentenced to ninety-seven months in a federal prison.

“Sexual predators are among us every which way we turn,” warns Stephanie, “and they are not who you often envision. Nobody ever expects the well-dressed businessman who lives next door and buys your child’s girl scout cookies, the soccer coach who pats a kid on the head after a great play, the school bus driver who pulls up to the house to drop off a child in the rain, the teacher who stays after school to tutor a child, the pediatrician, friends, siblings, or even a spouse. But the truth is they are most often the people we least suspect.”

EXPOSED is a chilling story, revealing one mother’s near-tragic personal story that compelled her to make a difference in the hunt for Internet sexual predators.

And R. Stephanie Good is a fine new addition to the lineup at Women in Crime Ink. Because her bio was not posted on launch day, here is more about the professional background of our newest contributor:

R. Stephanie Good, author of Law School 101: Survival Techniques from Pre-Law to Life as an Attorney, and co-author of the New York Times best seller Aruba: The Tragic Untold Story of Natalee Holloway and Corruption in Paradise as well as A Rush to Injustice: How Power, Prejudice, Racism, and Political Correctness Overshadowed Truth and Justice in the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case, received her BA in Political Science from the State University of New York at Stony Brook where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa. She continued her education at Hofstra University School of Law in New York York where she earned her JD and an LLM in international law.


Felicia Donovan said...

Stephanie, best of luck with the book. I have worked with our on-line child exploitation unit and I think the public would be shocked to see just how quickly the "grooming" process happens. We're talking minutes, not days.

The reality of these crimes is that in many states, these predators could legally have consensual sex with teens (in NH, 16 is the legal consensual age), but they don't want the 16-year olds out there. They want the most pre-pubescent child they can find which is why they go after the 13-14-year olds. The rate of recidivism among sex offenders is one of the highest because of its compulsive nature.

Why is this heinous crime so difficult to thwart? In part because it's just so prolific; it takes years for an investigator to be trained to follow the computer forensic trail; and our Federal dollars keep getting diverted to fighting less important wars than protecting our own children.

Felicia Donovan

Robin Sax said...

You are absolutely correct in how quickly the grooming process takes place. The key is to cut any connection off at the onset. Internet safety begins in the home. Children MUST be taught to simply delete an-unwanted/unknown messages, period. DELETE, DELETE, DELETE. Think of it like "The Club" on a car. If a car-thief sees a club on a steering wheel, he will simply move on to the next car. There are tons of easier cars to break into. The same is true for internet predators. If the initial contact is met with a delete, then the predator will simply move on. If, however, the child entertains ANY conversation, then the there is an opening for which the predator will take advantage of even the potential to foster a relationship. Savvy kids think they can "outsmart" the unwanted emails by responding. But even a rude or mean response can signal an opening for a potential conversation. And the devious predator will spend the necessary time breaking the child down and utilizing the anger, and rudeness to begin the grooming process. Thanks for your post!!!

Anonymous said...

I appreciate this conversation very much. I find the advice of Robin Sax extremely useful. My daughter thought she was very clever, and responded to a perverted comment about her YouTube video. Thank God someone alerted me this, and she was promptly "kicked off" of YouTube.
I will have her read your advice when she comes home from school.

Some girls, who've been taught not to talk to strangers, do in fact think they can handle themselves. The reminder here is crucial, and very timely....thanks!

And thanks to R. Stephanie Good, for the work that you do!

Anonymous said...

I am surprised at how little time some of these men are getting. I think it is fantastic that you, Stephanie, the FBI, To Catch A predator, and all the others are tackling this problem with such tenacity and committment. You have saved many, many young girls from an awful experience.

Nikki said...

I second what Leah said. Thank you so much for making the net a little bit safer for my 12 year old daughter.

I still can't believe how naive some parents are that they allow their children unsupervised internet time. My daughter has to sit right next to me when she's online. I have to approve of what site she's on and for how long. We've actually found that it's another way for us to bond. We crack up at the videos on youtube and find interesting new sites together.

I just wish that other parents would wake up and acknowledge what's happening. Unfortunately, in today's society, there are too many parents that let the t.v. and internet raise their children.

Felicia Donovan said...

The Internet has helped transform what used to be a nearly hidden crime – child exploitation and pornography into what was estimated in 2006 to be a $20 billion-a-year criminal enterprise. According to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, there are more than 10,000 child porn sites involving more than 300,000 children. 34% of surveyed students admitted to being exposed to sexual material online they did not want to see while 52% who were exposed did not report the incident to anyone (NCMEC Study).

Statistics aside, it takes about three minutes for the conversation to go from "ASL" (Age, Sex, Location) to "Do you wear panties?" and "How thick do you like it?" If that doesn't scare the hell out of parents, I don't know what else can.

Felicia Donovan

krissib said...

One of the things that I stress with parents is that the internet is not a babysitter, nor can we be complacent as parents and assume that our children are safe and know better than to talk with a stranger online. It would shock parents about how children are groomed and seduced by the online friend who claims to understand them when their parents do not. The cool adult who builds up their ego and self esteem...Even the brightest, well adjusted teens are susceptible.

The internet has allowed the closet pedophile anonymity and a target rich enviornment - it is truly like shooting fish in a barrel and we do not have the resources, the laws or sentences that will allow us to get ahead of the problem. A pedophile cannot be "fixed" - recidivism is high and the opportunities too easy. We need tougher laws and higher mandatory minimum sentencing. We also need consistency between states in regard to what is illegal. These perps educate themselves and will choose states with loopholes and leniency in their laws.

I could go on all day with what we see in my unit - It is nice to see that there are so many who are passionate about stopping the exploitation I see everyday. Nothing would make me happier than not to have job security in this specialty.

Detective Kristyn Bernier
NH ICAC Task Force

Robin Sax said...

The key here is to focus on what parents can do, instead of what our criminal justice is not or cannot do. Yes, there are many problems within the system,but, the prevention begins at home. It's no big surprise that the one thing that kids (of all ages) want more than anything else is attention. And, the reason pedophiles/predators are so successful is that they spend the time and give the attention that kids so desperately crave. They listen to their problems, identify with their needs, and do not respond from a point of judgment instead from a point of empathy. A great way to learn about YOUR kids and show your kids that you are genuinely interested in their world is to ask them: "Hey, what's Facebook? (Even if you already know) Say, "tell me about it, can I find my high school best friend? Show me how. What other cool sites are there?" By doing this you are learning about a subject that kids undoubtedly know a ton about and it will allow you to take a pulse on what sites they know and are using. Once you have that conversation then you need to follow up with part two-- SIGN UP, LEARN, AND EXPLORE every social networking site out there. You will learn more about your child from reading their posts, webpages, blogs etc. then you ever will in a direct conversation. And even better, read your kid's friends pages where they will give you the real skinny of what is happening in your child's life. Explore XANGA, FRIENDSTER, FACEBOOK, YOU TUBE, MYSPACE, YAHOO 360, CLUB PENGUIN, and any other social network sites. Knowledge is power.


Jan C said...

For every pervert caught, there are hundreds to take his place. Vigilance on our part is important, but there has to be a greater deterrent. Two or three years in prison for molesting, or attempting to molest, a child is not enough to scare off a determined pedophile. Until enough people demand severe penalties (to match the crime), our children will continue to be preyed upon.

Anonymous said...

Nikki--I think your days are numbered, if you're raising a normal teen-age girl, where she sits by you while surfing the internet.
Control is great, while we have it, but eventually the apron string must be loosened, and they will be on their own soon enough.
I take exception to this comment: "I still can't believe how naive some parents are that they allow their children unsupervised internet time"

I don't think it's the mark of successful parenting that a child behaves while in your presence, it's what they do while your not hovering that is crucial.

Such great words of wisdom and advice from most all of you!