Monday, September 01, 2008

CyberStalking Case Urges Lawmakers to Make New Laws


Emily Jones received a startling call from her pastor in March.

The pastor, who was taking a new position out of state, was adding members of his congregation to his Facebook account to keep in touch with after the move. He found a Facebook page - an Internet socializing network - that purportedly belonged to Jones.

He called her after viewing the page, Jones said, because “he was concerned I had fallen away from my Christian walk.”

The site, in Jones' words, contained “the worst smut, X-rated material you could imagine.”

Ryan Brown, a sound technician at Jones' church, had created Facebook pages for Jones and her younger sister, Haley Flanagan, each containing obscene material about the two of them.

Brown admitted making the pages to Wabash police and was charged with two counts of stalking and two counts of harassment. He plead guilty to the harassment charges on Wednesday in Wabash County Superior Court.

“That's just a slap on the wrist,” the girls' mother, Cindy Flanagan, said of the probable sentence provided for in current law during a Plain Dealer interview before the hearing in Wabash Superior Court. “If he would have to file as an Internet predator or a sex offender, they could take the Internet away from him for two years.”

Jones, married and the mother of two young children, said, “Harassment to me is when someone says, ‘Hey, pretty girl,' and you feel uncomfortable. This is worse than harassment.”

Cindy Flanagan quickly added, “This is molestation.”

But, as the Flanagans and Joneses learned in the six months since the pages were discovered, Indiana doesn't have laws to punish the type of cyber-stalking the two young ladies have been subjected to for two years.

The family, with the help of State Rep. Bill Ruppel, Attorney General Steve Carter, Mayor Bob Vanlandingham and others, are trying to get laws enacted in Indiana against cyber-stalking. They said they are ready to go as far as testifying before the Indiana Legislature to make their case for tougher measures.

“It's not going to help our case currently,” Jones said, “but the next time someone does it, and if they get caught, they could be punished as a sex offender. It definitely is a sex crime.”

Facebook is an Internet social network popular among teens and young adults as a way to interact with people around the world on the computer. (The company closed the fake pages after being notified by authorities.)

Because the site was seen worldwide, the sisters fear for their safety.

The sisters have taken self defense courses, and other measures to protect themselves.

What makes it even more disgusting, Jones said, is to think of the number of men around the world who have conversations over the computer with Brown, thinking they were actually talking to one of the sisters.

“It scares you,” she said. “These people have been having ‘relations' with us for two years. They know where we live. Our safety is definitely a concern.”
Coming forward has taken a lot of courage.

“It's scary to come forward,” Jones said. “But, if someone does it again, we need to have laws in place so they can be punished.”


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