A new warning for Mid-South parents about who is talking to your children online, and who is protecting them. In recent weeks, Facebook officials detected disturbing messages between a 15-year-old girl and 21-year-old Samuel Ott of Collierville, who is now charged with statutory rape.
Authorities caught wind of the case after being alerted of possible sexual contact in online messages from not only those at Facebook, but also monitors at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
Child safety advocates said these cases are growing, as is the crackdown between agencies.
“As parents, you must inspect what you expect of your children,” Retired Memphis Police Capt. Len Edwards said. That’s Edwards’ constant message for parents.
“When it comes to a child’s privacy, there’s no such thing as being too careful,” Edwards said.
He now leads the Commission on Missing & Exploited Children in Shelby County. The group works with police and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children to catch adult predators online.
“It all works hand-in-hand to protect the children,” Edwards said.
That partnership paid off this week, when after alerts from Facebook and NCMEC officials, Memphis Police charged Ott with statutory rape of a 15-year-old girl.
Edwards said, “A lot of the perpetrators will say: ‘it’s a secret, don’t tell anyone.'”
After social media messages raised red flags from online monitors, the teenager told investigators she and Ott had sex several times in December.
“A week doesn’t pass where someone doesn’t get caught up in these type of situations,” Edwards said.
He said this case should be a wake-up call for parents about the potential risks when their kids communicate online.
“My child is smarter than that, my child is more sophisticated, they wouldn’t fall for that. Yes, they would, they would, given the right circumstances,” Edwards said.
“We do everything we can to work with these social media platforms and law enforcement to really connect those dots,” Callahan Walsh, a child safety advocate with the NCMEC said. “It can work two ways. One it can work in an algorithm where the computer system is working in the background trying to detect this kind of activity, but a lot of it is reporting as well.”
That’s why Walsh offered this advice to parents.
“Many of them didn’t grow up with this type of technology so the knowledge gap can be so severe and so what we try to tell parents is try and understand the technology, get on the platform, download those apps yourself and talk to your kids,” Walsh said.