Rohnert Park resident Ashley Zimmer was arrested last week for sending inappropriate matter to a minor as well as possession of child pornography. She had worked for various schools in Rohnert Park and Penngrove as a teacher’s aide for a YMCA after school program.
The Salime County Sheriff’s Office in Arkansas notified Rohnert Park’s Department of Public Safety of the situation on September 22. The 12-year old boy’s mother had contacted the sheriff’s office after she found nude pictures of an adult on her child’s phone. Through comparing social media accounts, the mother could ascertain that the perpetrator lived in Rohnert Park. Rohnert Park detectives could obtain search warrants and an arrest warrant for Zimmer. On September 28 Zimmer was taken into custody. She posted bail that day, however, and will be arraigned in court most likely by mid-October. In the meantime, the case is still an active investigation on the part of the Rohnert Park Public Safety’s Investigations Bureau.
News of the arrest was a wakeup call for parents since Zimmer had met the victim through an online video game, Xbox Live. Increasingly, sex offenders that target minors are using online games, apps and social media to prey on children, through avenues that can be difficult for parents to detect. According to Security Systems Compare, 500,000 predators are online every day and one in seven kids have been sexually solicited online. 82 percent of predators use social media to learn about their victim’s likes and dislikes and 65 percent use social media to learn where their victim lives and goes to school.
“Lots of times when people take advantage of kids they use online sources to do so,” says Sergeant Jeff Justice with the Rohnert Park Public Safety Investigations Bureau. “Or they may pose to be another juvenile to get them to do things that they normally wouldn’t do.”
Zimmer told investigators she thought the 12-year old victim was 14 because that was written on his online profile. According to PureSight Technologies Ltd., a company with the mission of providing a safe online environment for the world’s children, about 30 percent of the victims of Internet sexual exploitation are boys and Internet sexual predators tend to target juveniles between the ages of 11 and 15.
Zimmer worked at both Richard Crane and Penngrove School YMCA programs. She also worked as a babysitter for young children through the website care.com. The ongoing investigation will determine if there are other victims or if other crimes were committed. So far there is no evidence of other children being at risk.
Approximately 95 percent of all Americans between 12 and 17 years old are online and three in four teens access the Internet on cell phones, tablets and other mobile devices (according to PureSight). Sergeant Justice warns parents of the dangers of online devices and urges them to remain aware of exactly what their kids are doing and seeing online.
“If your kids have devices that have access to the Internet, first and foremost have
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an open communication with your children and warn them that there are people out there that want to take advantage of kids,” says Justice. “Try to be as mindful as you can and as aware as you can of what your kids are doing online. You have a right to have access to their social media sites and monitor what’s going on. The video games may not be as easy because they can just connect with people live.”
Parents can also establish parental controls on devices, limiting access to certain online content. Monitoring software can monitor online behavior and tools like MyMobile Watchdog can monitor cell phone activity, which seems to be the medium of choice for kids. This tool will let you monitor texts, block apps and set limits. Parents should also use caution with online gaming since online gaming chat rooms can leave children vulnerable. Consider restricting gaming to offline until the child reaches a certain level of maturity.
“Decide as a parent when you want your child to have access to that kind of stuff because there are some things you can put parental controls on as far as what they can or can’t access,” says Justice. “It’s impossible to keep your child from being exposed to everything if they have access to the Internet because everything is out there on the Internet.”
Warning signs that your child may be in trouble include your child tending to use their computer at night, your child receiving strange phone calls or receiving gifts from a “friend,” finding pornography on your child’s computer, or your child being secretive about online activity or becoming withdrawn.