No one would ever mistake Mark Schroeder for a Republican, although the Buffalo Assemblyman's Democratic peers may occasionally wonder about the fact. They shouldn't. They should be grateful for a colleague who is willing to tell the speaker that he has no clothes.
That's essentially what Schroeder did recently on these pages, when he lambasted the Assembly's Democratic majority for failing to act on legislation meant to protect children from computer sex crimes. If ever an issue was tailor made for Democrats, the putative party of the little guy, it's in guarding the most defenseless from the most predatory. Yet, one year after the Assembly leadership reluctantly allowed the bill to be introduced, it languishes in committee, where unwanted legislation goes to die.
Schroeder won't have it. He drew up the Computer Sex Crimes Act last year, only to have the Assembly leadership ignore it. He complained loudly and the chamber bosses, led by Speaker Sheldon Silver, changed their minds -- as long as someone else introduced the measure. Schroeder agreed. The bill was carried by Assemblyman Joseph Lenton, D-Brooklyn. It was referred to the Codes Committee and there it sits, while pedophiles and pornographers work their will on unsuspecting children. So Schroeder is still complaining.
The bill was initially drafted by Eliot L. Spitzer, then attorney general and now governor. It creates the law of "computer sex crime," defined as using a computer or computer service to communicate with the victim while committing a sex crime against a child. "The anonymity of cyberspace is the perfect medium for predatory crimes against vulnerable individuals," Spitzer explained in drafting the bill.
Anyone who doesn't understand that fact should refer to October's Buffalo News series on the burgeoning plague of child pornography. Only a decade ago, a child advocate told a News photographer, estimates were that around 300 children were being victimized by child pornography. Today, with the prevalence of the Internet, he said the number is more like 100,000.
Law enforcement cannot ignore this problem. Even Assembly Democrats, who are historically loathe to make things tougher on criminals, must see that their inaction is feeding a beast that devours innocence. They need to act.
Maybe lawmakers can make Schroeder's bill better. That's fine with him. But the sexual exploitation of children is a calamity -- "a catastrophic human rights crisis," as the News series put it. And while the crisis is international in scope, Americans are the biggest consumers of child pornography and New York is the nation's third-largest state. We are a big part of the problem. The least we could do is pass a law.