According to a new study by the Crimes Against Children Research Center, about one in five children between the ages of 10 and 17 will end up receiving unwanted sexual solicitations online. This statistic hit especially close to home for Oakland this week — Alex Gonzalez, of New Jersey, was sentenced for sexually coercing a teenager online. After pleading guilty, he received a 10 year federal prison sentence.
The story is one that many parents hope to never hear. According to federal prosecutors working the case, Gonzalez convinced a 15-year-old girl to take nude photographs and send them to him via a photo-sharing phone app.
The teenager then said she wanted no further contact with Gonzalez. At this point, he attempted to “punish” her with a variety of malicious online activity. On a free Russian photo sharing website, he posted her name, age and phone number along with her nude photographs. He also created a fake Facebook page and added the teenager’s friends, then continually posted her nude image while tagging her in it. He went on from there to post the same images to a free-access pornography website.
“With access to social media apps only a download away for children, we can only assume that the ratio of one out of five children receiving unwanted sexual solicitations online will go up,” says Chris COO at Zabra, a company that provides online safety tools and information. “While most parents are new to social media or just plain confused by it, they need to get engaged. General common sense approach to real world parenting such as no talking to strangers, no walking alone etc needs to be translated to the digital world.”
Gonzalez’s actions were clearly illegal and in violation of U.S. child pornography laws, as well as laws governing any attempts to solicit sexual contact with a child. After Gonzalez’s postings went up, FBI agents received a search warrant for his home. There, they found over 2,5000 images and 130 videos which depicted minors involved in sexual conduct saved to his computer. Earlier in the year, he pleaded guilty to distribution and possession of child pornography.
The study by Crimes Against Children Research Center found that about 25% of children who had been solicited online said the action made them afraid or very upset, and many reported that it was subsequently followed by additional approaches by mail, phone or in person.
“Any child who is mature enough to be on the Internet and into chat rooms where that sort of discussion is likely, or even possible, parents should be talking to these kids about what these kind of approaches mean,” advises Lewis Lipsitt, a professor of psychology at Brown University.