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Editorial: Home again / A girl relives an old story with a modern twist

Wednesday, January 09, 2002

The disappearance of 13-year-old Alicia Kozakiewicz from her Crafton Heights home was resolved in a way that doesn't always occur in such cases -- happily, not tragically. Acting on a tip, FBI agents found her restrained in a house outside Washington and returned her safely to her parents.

Details of the case remain murky, but the suspect, Scott W. Tyree, was someone she met on the Internet (she had foolishly posted pictures of herself on multiple Web sites). To what extent she went willingly with him is one of the unanswered questions. He has been charged with transporting a minor across state lines for sexual purposes.

Although this case is being cited as a prime example of the dangers lurking in cyberspace, the story narrated by police is a familiar one. Before computers existed, sleazy men found ways to exploit young women who were precocious or naive or looking for dubious adventure. The computer has only increased the avenues of mischief.

Unfortunately, the computer age also happens to coincide with the age of shamelessness. The perverts of old knew better than to go public. They did not stand before the (cyber) world, posing proudly -- as Scott Tyree did on his Web site -- before an arsenal of bondage devices. Whatever the ultimate determination of his guilt or innocence, the world he inhabited was disgusting.

That being so, it is easy to forget that the Internet is a boon; it makes the world smaller; it is an engine of legitimate friendships and discussion; it puts a library of knowledge at a person's fingertips. And it is also an invitation to a ghastly territory where distinctions like "consenting adults" do not seem to apply, where some treat sex like a game in which pain becomes pleasure.

The answer is not keeping computers out of the hands of children, for technological savvy is the key to their greater education. But, as the authorities have reminded the public, it is wise to keep the computer in a family room where it can be easily observed by parents.

Law enforcement officials, particularly the Federal Bureau of Investigation, did a great job in solving this case, to the vast relief of Alicia Kozakiewicz's parents. Other parents need to look and learn. In a new sinister way, the old story recurs.

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