OPW INTERVIEW -- Aug 17, 2005 -- Senator Cropsey - Senate sponsor of the Michigan background checks legislation
Why do we need legislation for background checks on online dating sites?
As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee I'm always concerned about people being victimized by criminals, especially women and children are being violated by rapists and pedophiles. The United States Department of Justice reports that sexual assaults are the most under-reported crime in our nation. When vulnerable women and children are violated, the state prosecutes the sexual predator. The best situation is for women and children not to be victimized in the first place. At the very least online dating companies need to let their clientele know the risks that they face. If an online dating company is doing background checks, the company should state the limitations of the background checks. If the online dating company refuses to do a background check, then the company should clearly warn their clientele of the risks that they face. If more people become better informed and take proper precautions, then fewer women and children are victimized.
Rape is a terrible crime. A lady contacted my office who was raped 8 years ago. Just a few months ago she realized while she was sitting on her patio that she hadn't thought about the rape for 15 minutes...and that was a tremendous victory. Rape is a life sentence for the victim.
What is the likelihood of success for the legislation?
Legislation will eventually pass. Once the first state passes legislation several other states will follow. It's just a matter of time. In this case more victims are coming forward and saying that more protection is needed. One of the things the online dating companies cannot afford to happen is for them to appear that they are not doing all they can to protect women and children. My offer to online dating companies is, come sit down and help write legislation that gives additional safety to your clientele.
What are the next steps for the legislation?
This summer we are working on this issue to see if we can reach an agreement with the online dating companies on background check notices that would help to protect and educate their clients.
How can online dating companies help?
Online dating companies need to help find a solution and thereby reduce victimization, to let us know their ideas and work with us. At the very least they can send me an email with their ideas. Eventually the online dating companies can get together with me in Lansing to help craft this legislation. We need law enforcement, victims, and online dating companies to sit down and figure out how to address this issue. You can expect this to happen within the next couple of months.
It would be helpful if the online dating companies had a leadership team that can speak for their industry. It is impractical to have 50 online dating services show up and want to sit down with the victims and law enforcement organizations. Virtually every other organization realizes the benefit of having a representative group; such as doctors, lawyers, insurance agencies. Most groups realize they need someone to speak for them for the benefit of their industries.
At this point, legislation is in the conceptual stage. The online dating companies can have a maximum impact at this early stage to shape the legislation. When the online dating companies understand the concerns of the legislature, they can work to meet that concern. Do not wait for a bad incident to happen and have the legislature stampede a law through that does not take everything into consideration. Online dating companies need someone who has the authority to speak for the industry.
Are there other areas that you are thinking of applying such legislation?
Whenever the government sees a significant problem it will try to remedy that problem through law. This is not the first time that an internet business would be subject to government regulation. Michigan had spam legislation signed a year ago. Background checks are being performed in other areas of life, such as in public schools and daycare centers.
What happened with the Michigan legislation this time around?
The only holdup is that it didn't get past the state senate. I was initially responsible for delaying the legislation. My position has changed. I now believe that legislation is needed. The House of Representatives has already overwhelmingly passed legislation. If legislation passes the senate, it will pass the house.
A year ago I did not see a need for legislation until a bad incident happened near my district. A stalker killed himself as he was planting explosives in a woman's house that he met online. This was an epiphany for me. It made me realize that there is danger here. That the legislature needs to address the issue; what are we doing to protect vulnerable women and children from sexual predators that are using the internet?
What did you think of the mobile internet dating convention?
The meeting we had was very productive. I learned a lot from the discussion and thoroughly enjoyed the forum. I want to thank iDate for inviting me.
Mark Brooks: The Michigan legislation passed the Michigan House by a 74-14 margin in the last legislative session. The bill made it to the Senate at the end of the session where Cropsey held the bill up (as Chairman of the Criminal Justice Committee) and the session came to a close. At the start of this session, Cropsey decided to champion the bill. The bill passed out of his committee, but the full Senate wanted the Sex Offender language (a change so significant, it had to go back to Committee before full Senate consideration).