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Attorney General stands up for kids

SKYLER BELL, Of the Record staff

What parents don’t know cannot only hurt them, but their children as well.

That’s the message delivered by Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff in recent press conferences about the dangers of pornography and graphic video games.

The key, he said, is educating the parents on what their children are really watching and playing, as well as going to the source and educating the children of the dangers lurking around every mistyped Web address or email sent from an unknown source.

Stephanie Polukoff, mother and former PTA President at Parley’s Park Elementary School in Park City, agrees with Shurtleff.

"As a mother, I think educating is the key to help parents understand what their kids are playing with as far as video games and what they’re looking at on the Internet," she said. "I would be for educating the public, especially parents, but also going through the school and educating kids there."

Polukoff has been active in the community in the past, trying to educate parents about how many children are finding themselves in danger after meeting a new friend online. Members of the Internet Crimes Against Children Taskforce, initiated by Shurtleff, have been to Park City several times since Polukoff asked them to speak to parents last October. The members, mainly FBI agents and other law enforcement officials, spoke about specific crimes that happen daily on the Internet and how parents can protect their children.

Shurtleff encouraged parents to enroll in the Child Protection Registry, a system designed to prevent salacious

emails from being sent to minors.

Much like the do-not-call registry for telemarketing, the Child Protection Registry requires any company using email to solicit customers to pornographic sites to scrub their mailing lists of those on the registry. The businesses are charged a small fee, which is used to pay for the expense of the registry.

So far about 175,000 Utahns have registered. The public can sign up by going to http://www.kidsregistry.utah.gov .

"Parents have the right to close the doors to keep porn out of their homes and out of view from their children," Shurtleff said in a news release. "I am grateful that the PTA, lawmakers and others are supporting our fight to defend the rights of parents."

The Utah PTA, as well as both Republican and Democratic lawmakers, supports the system.

"The Child Protection Registry is a simple, free, common sense measure to keep out messages that are inappropriate for children," Carmen Snow, President of the Utah PTA, said in the same release.

Legislators behind the registry include Senate President John Valentine and House Speaker Greg Curtis.

"The state of Utah will stand strong against the companies sending this outrageous material to unwilling participants," Curtis said.

Paul Murphy, director of communications and spokesperson for the Attorney General’s office, said their main interest is in protecting children.

"There are laws that allow adults to view certain materials but those laws don’t apply to kids," he said. "There’s a line there and there are those who have crossed that line. We had a press conference on Monday and we had a speaker talk about how there are now people who go online and lure kids in by being their friends through playing video games with them and then taking advantage of them."

Murphy said parents should be aware of how long children are online, whom they are speaking with and what they are viewing. Another way to protect them, he said, is by using the rating system currently in place for video games, which can also display graphic images.

"The Attorney General first became interested because he plays the video games and his kids play them," he said. "The rating helps because a lot of parents just don’t know and they rely on those ratings to tell what’s inappropriate. Some of the video games primarily push sexual images and violence, and as a parent I don’t think those are appropriate for kids. If adults want to watch it, that’s one thing, but parents need to act as gate keepers for what their children see."

At Monday’s press conference, Shurtleff announced a new series of public service announcements for television and radio, one of which features Shurtleff playing video games with his children. The ads are intended to help parents understand the video game rating system and encourage parents to use them.

The rating system, which has been around since 1994, includes a range from "Early childhood" to "Adults only."

To find out more about the rating system go to http://www.esrb.org, and to sign-up for the registry visit http://www.kidsregistry.utah.gov.


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