The recent arrest of 48-year-old Mark Nemcek, who faces seven counts of luring a minor over the Internet for sexual acts and two counts of sexual seduction of a minor, highlights the need for parents to be aware of what their children are doing online, according to police.
Police say that Nemcek met two of the alleged victims through social media. Sgt. Ray Spencer of the sexual assault section of the Metropolitan Police Department said that while the department has no statistics regarding social media and sexual assault, many cases have a link between the two.
Spencer teaches a two-hour class called The Dark Side of Social Media by request at schools, private homes, homeowners association meetings, churches or anywhere else where 10 or more people are in attendance.
He was inspired to create the class with several other officers after noticing the links between social media and crime and realizing that many people are unaware of the capabilities of some websites and technology. As an example, Spencer cited the geotagging feature on the cameras of many cellphones.
“If you take a photograph and you don’t disable the GPS setting on the phone and you send that picture to someone else, that person can find wherever you were when you took that picture,” Spencer said. “If that’s your home, they know where you live.”
At a 1st Tuesday event Nov. 5 at the department’s South Central Area Command, 4860 Las Vegas Blvd. South, Lt. Daniel McGrath of the sexual assault section of the Metropolitan Police Department asked the audience members if they were familiar with various social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat. Only two people in the audience had heard of Snapchat.
“Snapchat is what a lot of kids are doing these days,” McGrath said. “I’ve asked that question in school auditoriums, and the only ones who didn’t know about it were adults.”
Snapchat allows users to send images and messages to people but with the catch that once the recipient opens the image or message, it deletes itself after a few seconds. The upshot is that people often send titillating pictures or messages they don’t want electronically repeated, knowing they will self-destruct.
“Of course, people have figured out ways to recover the pictures and use them in a negative way,” Spencer said. “It can result in embarrassment or criminal charges if that picture gets sent to someone you don’t want it sent to or posted somewhere you don’t want it posted.”
The example highlighted that youths are more savvy about new technology than their parents but not as savvy as the bad guys.
“The Internet has made things easier for sexual predators,” Spencer said. “It basically allows a stranger into your child’s bedroom through a computer or smartphone.”
For this reason, one of Spencer’s first recommendations is that children not be allowed to have a computer in their bedroom.
“When we were little, we always went into the bedroom and closed the door when we did things our parents didn’t want us to do,” Spencer said. “It’s the same now. We also recommend that parents keep the charger for their children’s cellphone in (the parents’) bedroom. That way, the kids can’t be on the device at night, and it gives the parents a chance to go through it and make sure their child isn’t engaging in inappropriate contact with someone else.”
There are also more technological ways of keeping an eye on your child’s activities.
“It’s a lot more complicated than just checking the browser history,” Spencer said. “There are numerous kinds of web-tracking software for your home computer and cellphone. It can be as restrictive or nonrestrictive as a parent wants. Some will send you an email if it detects inappropriate words. Others will give you a snapshot of everything the child is doing.”
While the action may seem intrusive to some, Spencer said it was just another aspect of knowing about your child and keeping kids safe.
“Parents need to let their kids know that people aren’t always who they say they are on the Internet,” Spencer said. “Arranging to meet up with a stranger you’ve met on the Internet can be pretty dangerous.”
Groups of 10 or more can request a presentation of The Dark Side of Social Media by calling Spencer at 702-828-2800.
Contact Paradise/Downtown View reporter F. Andrew Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-4532.