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The Internet is a growing arena for fostering new criminals and encouraging crime, according to Asst.-Cmdr. Suzy Ben-Baruch, head of the police's youth department, who will discuss the World Wide Web as a new tool for youth crimes, as well as for pedophiles and sex offenders, at the third national conference dealing with violence in Israeli society starting Wednesday.
"There are two faces of the Internet when talking about increasing crime and violence in Israeli society," Ben-Baruch told The Jerusalem Post. "Firstly, it is a very easy way for pedophiles and sex offenders to find new victims. They no longer have to stalk children in parks and playgrounds, but can lure them in an anonymous fashion without worrying that an adult will suspect what they are up to."
"Secondly, with youth committing crime via the Internet, it's much harder for the police to prevent the criminal act from taking place," Ben-Baruch said.
As part of her presentation at the conference, which is set to cover a wide variety of topics (see box), Ben-Baruch will examine the generational gap between teenagers and their parents, who do not understand the dangers of the Internet. She intends to urge lawmakers and educators to raise awareness of the growing phenomenon.
Israel Police figures on Internet crime indicate that such cases have more than tripled in recent years. According to Ben-Baruch, police detected 71 Internet crimes in 2005, and the figure rose rapidly to 230 in 2006.
With 85 percent of children between the ages nine to 17 using the Internet daily, more and more youth are falling victims to Internet crime or becoming criminal users.
"Until now, the police force did not have enough resources to counter this kind of crime," said Ben-Baruch. "In Israel, there are only 60 police patrolling the web [in the Computer Crime Department], compared to 500 police staff in Italy whose sole job is to monitor the activities of pedophiles on the Internet." However, that is all about to change, she said, because in March the police were allocated resources to increase the number of officers tracking Internet crimes to 150. Ben-Baruch said they were currently in the process of recruiting staff.
Among possible solutions to Internet crime, Ben-Baruch will point to the need for improved legislation, increased awareness among parents and educators of the dangers, and teaching children how to surf the web safely.
Highlighting a 2005 study on youth Internet habits, which indicated that 39% freely give out personal information without considering the consequences and 40% admit to striking up conversations with strangers, she said that children were becoming increasingly vulnerable without having to leave their homes.
In March, dubbed "National Safe Internet Month," the Israel Police, together with the Education Ministry and several non-profit organizations, developed several initiatives to combat criminal activity on the web and raise awareness about its dangers.
"We put together a seven-minute film for parents and school children highlighting the innovative ways pedophiles use the Internet to get to children," said Ben-Baruch, adding that with technology such ICQ, it takes only seconds for sexual predators to find young victims.
She also recalled the 2003 case of Ashkelon teen Ofir Rahum, whom female terrorist Amani Mona lured to his death in Ramallah with promises of sex. She added that the suspect had been tracked down by the police's Computer Crimes Squad, who carried out forensics on Rahum's computer and reconstructed old files through data recovery.
"The Internet is an excellent invention," said Ben-Baruch. "But it means that there is now a new forum for criminals and different ways to commit crimes. Suddenly, there is a small box in your own house that can turn you into a victim or an offender."