Heads up, parents: Predators are using apps to talk to kids

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 7, 2019

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A registered sex offender from Atmore, AL, was recently placed behind bars after allegedly using the phone app “Pikki” to coerce a 13-year-old into performing sexual acts. Matthew Mason Dodge, 46, was charged with five counts of possession of child pornography, one count of possession of child pornography with the intent to distribute and one count of electronic solicitation of a child. Court officials said that more than 1,000 images of nude and partially nude children were recovered from Dodge’s phone. 

Escambia County Regional Child Advocacy Center Director Stephanie Myrick said that people abusing social media apps to solicit sexual content from minors is a growing issue. 

“It has become a lot more prominent,” Myrick said. “People are using the apps to portray themselves as younger or even as their own age to communicate with much younger boys and girls.”

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One of the many reasons social media apps such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat have been used by so many today is because the apps make it possible for people from all over the world to connect. Social media users are able to communicate with people from across the room to people across the world instantaneously. 

Myrick said parents need to be mindful of apps that have features that delete posts after a short amount of time such as Snapchat. Snapchat allows users to send a post that will be deleted within seconds. Myrick said that feature can be dangerous because it can encourage users to send sexual or risky images. Snapchat users are also able to screenshot posts and see user’s locations.

“Parents need to understand how the apps on their children’s phones work before their children download the apps,” Myrick said. “Children will not tell you about all of the possible dangers of the app.”

Myrick said that there are also ways for parents to block certain apps from being downloaded on their children’s phones. There are plenty of apps that parents can use to help monitor exactly what apps their children are using such as the app FamilyTime. FamilyTime allows parents to block or control on an app-by-app basis, apply internet filters, monitor calls and texts, and keep an eye on contact lists.  

Myrick, who has children of her own, said she monitors her children’s devices. 

“I pay for my kids’ phones, so it entitles me to look at them at any point of time,” Myrick said. “Parents think that since the child is at home, they can’t be getting themselves into trouble, but that doesn’t matter. Children can be doing so much more when they have access to the whole world through a single device.”

Escambia County Sheriff Heath Jackson said it’s important for parents to monitor their children’s devices. 

“This is a nationwide problem that has, unfortunately, made its way here,” Jackson said. “Parents need to know what their children are doing and make sure that they are not giving a lot of information about themselves.” 

A 16-year-old from Fairhope, AL, was just reunited with his family after allegedly being lured away by a sexual predator. The minor was missing for a total of 13 days. The minor’s mother said her child had been messaging a friend through a gaming app about leaving for New York. 

The Escambia County Sheriff’s Department shared a post on their Facebook page about several dangerous apps that parents need to be aware of. 

Here are a few of the apps:

  • Kik allows anyone to contact and direct message your child.
  • Hot or Not encourages users to rate your profile, check out people in the area, and chat with strangers. 
  • Holla allows users to video chat with people all over the world within seconds.