The Edmond Sun

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March 20, 2007

Miss America shines light on Internet safety

OKLAHOMA CITY — Lauren Nelson only has been wearing the Miss America tiara for seven weeks, but she’s already made appearances in 11 states.

This week, Nelson is back home in Oklahoma, and one of her stops was at the state Capitol, where she spoke to legislators Monday about her platform, Internet safety for children.

It’s a timely visit, because House Bill 1714, by Rep. Paul Wesselhoft, R-Moore, and Sen. Jonathan Nichols, R-Norman, passed the House by a 99-0 vote on Feb. 14 and has been assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Wesselhoft said he didn’t know when he wrote the bill that it later would be endorsed by a personal appearance from Miss America.

“Sometimes you just luck out,” he joked to onlookers Monday.

The bill will allow the courts to prohibit registered sex offenders from accessing certain communication Web sites, like MySpace and Facebook, and requires them to register with authorities any current e-mail addresses they are using.

“It’s scary but it’s true,” Wesselhoft said. “Your child may be communicating with molesters and rapists right in your own home. These online social networking sites are an open invitation for child predators to communicate with children.”

Nelson, a former University of Central Oklahoma student , said studies show one in five children in Oklahoma are inappropriately approached online. It happened to her when she was 13.

Nelson said she was at a seventh-grade sleepover party when she and a group of her young friends joined an online conversation with an older man in a chat room. Innocently, the girls provided the man with personal information.

“Thankfully, nothing came of that,” she said, “but later it definitely sparked my interest (in the issue).”

As Miss Oklahoma, Nelson spoke to more than 10,000 Oklahoma students about online safety and produced television public service announcements, one of which included an Edmond elementary school. She plans to continue that campaign through her year-long reign as Miss America.

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