Delaware's children now have stronger protections from online sexual predators under legislation that was proposed by Attorney General Beau Biden and the co-chairs of the General Assembly's Kids Caucus and signed into law today by Gov. Jack Markell.
HB 256, sponsored by Rep. Debra Heffernan, D-Brandywine, and Sen. Harris McDowell, D-Wilmington, received overwhelming support in the state House of Representatives and Senate earlier this spring.
"Nothing is more important to me than protecting our children," Attorney General Biden said. "Our kids and our families have been made more secure by the work of the Delaware Child Predator Task Force which works tirelessly to proactively identify the worst predators in society -- those who target children. This new law gives the Task Force and law enforcement across our state more powerful tools to put predators behind bars where they belong."
"The safety of our children is our top priority," said Governor Markell. "We continue to work together to shield our children from harm and hold those who hurt them accountable. This bill strengthens those efforts."
HB 256 makes clear that a sexual predator is guilty of the charge of sexual solicitation of a child online whether the defendant solicits an actual child or an undercover investigator whom the predator believes to be a child. The bill also elevates that offense from a Class C to a Class B felony in cases in which the predator actually travels to meet the subject he is soliciting online, whether that subject is a child or an undercover investigator.
"With more and more young people using electronic devices to communicate with a broader audience, law enforcement need every tool possible to help keep our children safe and protect them from sexual predators," said Rep. Debra Heffernan, D-Brandywine Hundred South. "Gone are the days of just worrying when your child goes to the park or store. They can be solicited inside the home at any hour of the day. We have now updated our laws to include all electronic devices and modes of communication that sexual predator could use to sexually solicit a child and make sure that any predator caught faces the appropriate punishment."
"Thanks to the Child Predator Task Force's hard work, we know the seriousness of this problem in Delaware," said McDowell, D-Wilmington North. "We hope this law will further protect our children by increasing the criminal penalties for those convicted of attempting to solicit them for sex by keeping those most heinous criminals off the streets for longer stretches."
The bill builds on the work done by Delaware's Child Predator Task Force which, since its creation in 2007, has secured the conviction of more than 190 predators and the rescue of 120 children who were being abused or being groomed for future victimization. The Task Force is charged with initiating proactive investigations to track down and arrest sexual predators, and it is increasingly focused on conducting undercover online investigations to finding predators lurking online looking to meet children. The legislation signed into law today ensures that predators caught in these undercover investigations are held accountable for their acts.