By THOMAS HARGROVE
The resignation of Florida Republican Rep. Mark Foley, after disclosure of his sexually explicit Internet communications with a former House page, sent shock waves through the missing-and-exploited-children community, which had once counted on Foley’s support.
Nowhere was the confusion more obvious than at the National Center for Missing Children, which on Friday called Foley’s resignation "a great loss to Florida and the nation" and concluded, "He will be missed."
"We were trying to do the right thing," said the center’s president, Ernie Allen on Monday. "We were trying to issue a generic statement that recognized the positive actions of a member of Congress."
The center’s leaders decided to edit the statement after reading reports of sexually graphic details of an Internet exchange between Foley and a 16-year-old former House page in 2003.
Allen and his staff changed the impact of Foley’s resignation from "a great loss" to only "a loss" and dropped any reference to missing the congressman.
The language got much tougher Saturday when the national center moved a new statement calling for an investigation.
"Congressman Foley has been an effective and dedicated member of Congress," the statement said. "Nonetheless, if it is determined that he has engaged in acts which have harmed children or put them in jeopardy, like any other person, he must be held accountable. If he has violated the law, he should be prosecuted."
Allen said the confusion is understandable since Foley had been instrumental in passing important legislation to protect children, including the sweeping Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006.
"But nobody is more fervent about protecting our children than we are," Allen said. "Our position is that if someone harms a child, then he or she needs to be held accountable."
Child safety experts are uncertain what impact Foley’s political fall will have on their movement.
"It will be interesting to see how this plays out," said David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. "It reminds us again that even prominent people can be offenders. But it may create more skepticism when people try to advocate for kids."
Allen said he hopes the fallout will be positive.
"Now there is a far greater awareness of who the offenders are, that the notion of ‘stranger danger’ is a myth and that the problem is far larger than anyone ever imagined," Allen said.