Danville Express

Newsfront - October 19, 2007

Police warn students about Internet predators

Sex offenders socialize in chat rooms to set up dates

by Jordan M. Doronila

Watch out for sexual predators - they prowl and come in all different shapes, sizes and names, especially online.

Members of the Danville Police and the Contra Costa County Sheriff's departments gave a presentation about sexual predators and Internet safety Tuesday evening last week at San Ramon Valley High School in Danville. Sexual predators solicit sex from minors on the Web, they said.

Danville Police Chief Chris Wenzel noted there are 12 sex offenders that live in the Danville area and 1,429 in the county.

"We feel it's an important presentation for safety," he said.

"The better informed you are, the better you can make decisions," said Sgt. Chris Simmons, a detective at the Sheriff's Office's homicide department. "This happens everywhere."

Sex offenders socialize in Internet chat rooms using various names, Simmons said. They communicate with children through major online services, such as Yahoo!, MySpace.com, Facebook.com, AmericanSingles.com and Craigslist.com.

Offenders know their victims' information through their online profiles, he explained. They begin chatting with young people about general topics. Eventually, they start talking about sex and solicit sex from them, setting up a date.

Adults soliciting and engaging in sex with a minor is a felony.

"At the meeting, your child is at the whim of the suspect," Simmons said.

The date could escalate into kidnapping, prostitution, child trafficking, rape, molestation, assault, torture and even murder, he said. Offenders may use weapons, a rape bed, rope, handcuffs, blindfolds, cameras, porn and sex toys on their victim, he added.

In a sting operation, Simmons posed as a 13-year-old on the Web, garnered solicitations from a business executive from San Francisco and developed a rapport with him over several months. The wealthy businessman arrived for a sexual encounter, and the police arrested him. The suspect also had maps of isolated places, and Simmons conjectured he may have been thinking of committing murder.

"Somehow, these children are confused," said Mary Dillow, a parent who saw the presentation. "Sex has become conditioned at a young age. It's (appalling) that a child would get sucked into that."

Simmons urged parents to talk to their children about sexual predators and monitor their computer use, noting the police can't catch all sexual offenders.

Megan's Law in California requires all sexual offenders to register their information publicly where they live. County residents can find profiles of offenders living in their area by visiting www.cocosheriff.org. Danville police inform residents when an offender moves into their neighborhood.

But sex offenders are not the only ones who have abused the Internet. Jeff Martin, tech specialist at San Ramon Valley High School, said kids have misused the school's Internet service for things such as pornography. They have also expressed themselves in a smutty manner.

A few years ago, a girl took sexual pictures of herself, posted them online and told boys to give her a call, Martin said. This incident happened in the San Ramon Valley Unified School District, and it has already been handled internally, he noted.

Martin said 1,800 out of 2,086 students at San Ramon had my MySpace accounts and hordes had been flocking to school computers to access them. He added that some students had posted times when their peers would fight each other. The district has been able to clamp down dramatically on the abuse.

"Internet (in school) is for educational purposes," Martin said.

The district has been using online filters to monitor students using the Web and to block them from using it for anything other than schoolwork.

"We busted a lot of kids," Martin said.

About a dozen people attended the event. Chief Wenzel said he was disappointed in the turnout, but on the other hand this hopefully means it is not a problem in Danville and Alamo.

Contact Jordan M. Doronila at jdoronila@DanvilleWeekly.com

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