JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The News4JAX I-TEAM is digging deeper into how easy it is for predators to contact children online – with new apps coming out every day.
On Monday, deputies in Volusia County arrested Brandon Donato, 29, after they said he drove from Cocoa Beach to Deland to meet a 12-year-old girl, twice. They arrested him in a sting the third time.
The sheriff said he met her on a networking app called “Wink.”
Related: Palatka man accused of bringing Harry Potter books, other items to meet 15-year-old for sex: PCSO | Estimated 500,000 predators have become daily threat to children on the internet, new data shows
“I think children believe when they go on an app that is developed for someone their age that everyone on that app is their age,” Amanda Warford Videll, Public Affairs Officer with the Federal Bureau of Investigation said. “And that’s not the case, there are adults pretending to be children every single day on these apps, looking specifically to victimize these kids and parents need to have conversations with their children.”
ProtectYoungEyes.com lists apps popular with kids to help educate parents. There are dozens. Some apps include:
- YikYak: It allows anonymous students to post photos and videos
- Boo: a dating and friendship app where users swipe to make connections
- Google Hangouts
“It is an especially vulnerable population,” Tracy Packiam, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist and Professor, said. “When you think of it from a developmental perspective, this is a time of our lives where individuals during this age, they are forming their identity, they’re forming their sense of self, their self-esteem. Females especially tend to go through a lot of physical changes during the 10-to-13-year period.”
Dr. Packiam is a clinical psychologist and a University of North Florida professor. She told News4JAX children – especially young teens – are seeking confidence and validation and predators can move in – getting the attention of a child with a simple compliment.
“They do not have to work hard at all,” Packiam said. “Especially because these young female preteens and teenagers, they’re, they’re so in need for validation.”
It’s extra dangerous because it’s a whole new world – and parents often aren’t up to date on apps and other chat websites.
“Provide them the skills, create these hypothetical situations, what would you do if someone reached out to you, and although it can sound scary, it can also provide them the resources in a safe environment to be able to deal with that,” Packiam said when asked what parents can do.
Dr. Packiam said parents and guardians need to have the conversation early and often.
Newly released 2023 crime data suggests that every day, someone’s child is approached online by someone looking to lure them for sexual purposes.
According to the latest data from multiple organizations that track online pedophilia cases and trends, an estimated 500,000 predators have become a daily threat to kids on the internet. The data revealed that the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to the rise in online luring cases. More than 80% of child sex crimes started on the internet. Data shows that 82% of online predators are men and only 15% know what their kids are doing online. Dr. D’Arienzo said the numbers don’t lie and parents must communicate with their kids about this threat.
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