The recent arrest of a Tehachapi man accused of having sex with under-age boys he met on a smart phone app is raising concerns over online safety. Many users say it all starts with a simple download and can often end up at a public place where young people are discovering other online users pretending to be someone else.
Four years ago a local 20-year-old man who did not want to be identified downloaded his first dating app on his smart phone.
“The biggest attraction I think would be the convenience of meeting people online and the opportunity to advance from there,” he said.
He used “Jack’d” and “Grindr” among other popular sites to meet other men, exchanging instant messages and even pictures.
“It can go from G-rated all the way to R to adult,” he said.
There are dozens of similar sites young people can illegally access from their smart phones or tablets that authorities say can easily attract online predators.
“Kids have iPads, iPhones, any number of smart phones for that matter and the amount of information they can get is right at their finger tips so, its definitely evolved in the last couple of years,” said Victor Keesey of the Kern County Sheriff’s Office.
“The apps tell you who’s the closes to you. It tells you how far they are and so kind of figure out who’s closer, who you want to date,” said another user, who created a profile on one of those mobile dating sites when he was 17, a year before the required age limit.
“It’s the Internet, you can create a whole new identity. If you’re 16 you can pose as an 18 or 20 year old and you can’t really prove who you are on the other end,” he said.
Many parents know these sites exist and work hard to keep teens far away.
“There’s a lot of dangerous by adding someone you don’t know. That person can be masquerading as someone else. They can be a predator masquerading as a youth or adolescent but it could be an adult or somebody who wants to bully you, harass you, pick on you or stalk you,” said William Haywood of the Ebony Counseling Center.
Leaders with the Ebony Counseling Center work with young people and many area parents on cyber safety. They say strong communication is the key to helping children stay safe.
“If there’s parental features on it, utilize those features to keep the kid basically not acting above their bounds, put boundaries on your kids, let them know, have a talk with them and let them know it may not be safe. There are types of people out there that will cause you harm, not just in their own peer group, but above their peer group. The parents have to be involved and proactive with their children and just make sure they monitor their kids closely,” he said.
The Ebony Counseling Center continues their weekend workshops Saturday talking about issues like this one as well as cyber-bulling.