Biden, Heffernan, McDowell: New Legislation Will Increase Fight Against Child Predators

DOVER – Attorney General Beau Biden and a bipartisan group of legislators – led by Kids Caucus co-chairs Rep. Debra Heffernan and Sen. Harris McDowell – unveiled legislation today that will strengthen law enforcement’s ability to stop sexual predators from hurting children.

The bill, which will be pre-filed in the House of Representatives on Thursday, builds on the work done by the Child Predator Task Force over the past seven years to track down and arrest sexual predators. Since 2007, the task force’s work has led to the conviction of more than 180 predators and the rescue of 119 children who were being abused or being groomed for future victimization. The task force has increasingly focused on conducting undercover online investigations to finding predators lurking online looking to meet children. The legislation ensures that predators caught in these undercover investigations face appropriate charges and punishment.

“Nothing is more important than protecting our kids,” said Biden, who last month asked the legislature’s budget-writing committee to fund an additional prosecutor and investigator for the task force. “The more predators we take off of the street, the safer we make our children. This legislation will strengthen our efforts to stop sexual predators before they have a chance to hurt a child. I am proud to work with Rep. Heffernan, Sen. McDowell and the rest of the Kids Caucus in the fight against the worst of society.”

Specifically, the bill makes clear that a sexual predator is guilty of sexual solicitation of a child online whether the individual is soliciting an actual child or an undercover investigator whom the predator believes to be a child. The bill also elevates the offense from a Class C to a Class B felony in cases in which the predator actually travels to meet the individual he is soliciting online, whether the 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. 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. This bill will update our code to include all electronic devices and modes of communication that sexual predator could use to sexually solicit a child and makes sure that any predator caught faces the appropriate punishment.”

Sen. McDowell, D-Wilmington North, said the law’s expanded scope and increased penalties are needed more than ever to protect children.

“We’ve all heard sobering testimony about the growing size and scope of this threat to our children – especially in the Internet Age,” said Sen. McDowell, who co-chairs both the Kids Caucus and the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee. “I hope these changes will provide a deterrent to those who would prey on children and, failing that, the stern penalties included in this bill will put those who are caught and convicted away from our children for a long time.”

In addition to Rep. Heffernan and Sen. McDowell, 22 lawmakers have already signed onto the legislation, including Sen. Bryan Townsend and Rep. Deborah Hudson, who are co-prime sponsors.