After Va. Facebook child-sex case, tips for keeping kids safe

WASHINGTON — A Triangle, Virginia, man was sentenced to 10 years in prison Friday after he used Facebook to trick a 15-year-old into having sex with him.

Juan Torres-Hernandez, 23, pleaded guilty to transporting a minor across state lines for criminal sexual activity.

Court documents said Torres-Hernandez used a Facebook identity with a fake name, age and photograph to get the teenager to meet him for sex and to send him nude photos.

The case and others like it have child safety advocates warning parents to talk with kids about using social media.

“Rather than start with a lecture, start with some questions like: ‘Have you ever been approached? What would you do? Do you know anybody who’s ever been approached? What precautions do you take?'” said Larry Magid, CEO of Connect, and a CBS technology analyst.

Magid, who is also on the board of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, says the conversation doesn’t have to be a long one, and recommends approaching what could be a very brief conversation in a nonthreatening manner.

“You really want to make them feel comfortable confiding in you and also, telling you what they know about how to be safe,” Magid said.

Parents can let kids know they never should have conversations about sex with strangers, and that predators on social media can easily misrepresent their sex or age.

“The good news is that it’s relatively rare — that we don’t see a huge number of these cases,” Magid said. “But, when we do see them, they’re often very tragic.”

A more common issue, Magid said, involves sexting.

He believes no one should electronically transmit nude pictures; they can be spread, either by accident or design, to a wider audience than intended.

“If you have not taken my advice and there is a picture out there, don’t allow somebody to extort you to give them sex or anything else,” Magid said. “Because as bad as it may be, it’s not the end of the world.”

Magid recommends reporting any extortion attempts, or someone misusing your image, to authorities such as the internet Crimes Against Children Task Force or the FBI.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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