New State Law Targets Online Predators

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Popular internet search engine Yahoo! made headlines recently when it announced its chat rooms would not admit anyone under age 18. But what you may not know is that prior to Yahoo!'s announcement, a similar law was already in effect in Texas.

The person who drafted the legislation was Brazos County Assistant District Attorney, Shane Phelps. The law makes it illegal for an adult to chat online with individuals they believe to be a minor.

"If you engage in sexually explicit conversation with someone you believe to be a minor online, then it's a felony now in the State of Texas," said Shane Phelps, Brazos County Assistant District Attorney.

Phelps says he was faced with a situation where an adult was soliciting sex from a minor online. But because the two had never met in person, technically, no crime had been committed.

Frustrated with the loophole, Phelps decided to write the online solicitation of a minor bill that is now the law.

"It is an unbelievably powerful tool for prosecution and law enforcement to address what is becoming a very bad problem," said Phelps.

The states online solicitation bill was passed unanimously by the house and the senate. Phelps commends Yahoo for taking their efforts to a national level to prevent a crime he says is growing like wildfire.

"It is growing at an exponential rate and we have to do the kind of things that Yahoo!'s doing and that we're doing to change the laws to address it," said Phelps.

It is not clear how Yahoo! will prevent minors from signing up as adults because credit cards are not required. But that really doesn't matter if you live in Texas because once a minor reveals their real age to an adult, chatting becomes a possible felony.