Dardenne Prairie, Mo (The Weekly Vice) - On Wednesday, October 21st, city officials wasted no time enacting an ordinance designed to address the public outcry for justice in the Megan Meier tragedy. The six member Board of Aldermen made Internet harassment a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a $500 fine and 90 days in jail.
But as details of the new law come to light, serious flaws are beginning to surface which suggest the new law may be ineffectual, may conflict with Freedom of Speech rights and may not even apply to the case it was designed to address. The Vice would agree with the first and third concern.
While most critics of the case remain unimpressed with the new measure, city officials have succeeded in appeasing some. Officials who are eager to quiet critics point to this "feel good" ordinance, although they acknowlege it's limitations.
Does this new law provide any justice for Megan? Does this law provide equitable relief for a future victim?
There's a hole in the bucket
The Vice rejects the premise of this new law and believes it completely misses the mark. The reasoning behind this opinion is that city officials have consistently treated this case as an Internet harassment case instead of a child welfare/exploitation case.
Classifying this case as a harassment issue completely fails to address the most serious aspects of the methods Lori Drew employed to lead this youth to her demise. The Vice disagrees that harassment was even a factor in this case until just a couple of days before Megan's death.
Considering this case a harassment issue is incorrect because during the 5 weeks Lori Drew baited and groomed her victim, the attention was NOT unwanted attention. Megan participated in the conversations willingly because she was misled, lured, manipulated and exploited without her knowledge.
Ordinance Sets a Disturbing and Backwards Precedent
This law willfully sets a precedent that future child exploiters and predators might use to reclassify their cases as harassment cases. In effect, the law enacted to give Megan justice, may make her even more vulnerable. So long as the child victim doesn't tell the predator to stop, even a harassment charge may not stick with the right circumstances and a good defender.
Our 13 year old children should not be expected to stop their own seduction. What happens when future child predators defend themselves by insisting their activity was invited? This leaves an incredible opening in the legal code for officials to discard cases they feel aren't worthy of the stiffer penalties for Child Predators that are now on the books. Even if a prosecutor was successful in establishing the harassment, a Judge is free to deliver the same kind of penalty a speeding ticket would impose. Maybe less.
Every aspect of this case follows the same procedural requirement used to convict a Child Predator. A child was manipulated by an adult. A child was engaged in sexually explicit conversation (as acknowledged by Lori Drew herself). An adult imposed her will on a child by misleading her, using a profile designed to sexually or intimately attract the 13 year old Megan.
Lori then utilized the power she had gained over this child to cause significant distress and endangerment to that child. She even stipulated to many of these activities in the police report she filed shortly after Megan's death.
We can go on and on here, but the parallels between this case and many other child predator cases that are successfully prosecuted bear striking similarities.
Child Predator laws do not require much more than simply proving that an adult has engaged a minor in sexually explicit conversation. Lori Drew has already stipulated that her conversations with Megan were sometimes sexual for a child Megan's age.
City officials who continue to ignore this viable, documented admission and continue to address this issue as harassment are intentionally burying their heads in the sand, when the solution is staring them right in the face. Why?
New Law Weakens Older Laws
On June 5th, 2006, Governor Matt Blunt signed into law stiff penalties for convicted sex offenders. The Vice believes that officials continually reject a child predator classification of this case in order to keep the penalty of this offense out of this harsher realm.
Opponents of this law are active in defeating this law not by changing it, but by disqualifying cases like Megan's from ever being heard.
There are several other child exploitation laws on the books. To date, none of them have even been considered by City, State and Federal officials in this case. The Vice is outraged that a motion was never even filed, so that the case could at least be argued before a judge or jury.
Lastly, the ordinance enacted Wednesday has one more tell tale sign of it's real limitations. It applies only to residents of Dardenne Prairie. If a predator/harasser stalks a child from a computer that's one foot outside of the city line, this ordinance would get the same response from city officials that Megan Meier's case has achieved thus far.
'Don't call us, we'll call you.'